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What Is Extrinsic Motivation and How Does It Work?

There are two different types of motivation. They are extrinsic motivation, and internal motivation. Most people know what internal motivation is, but what is extrinsic motivation?

Why do we do the things that we do? Why do we go to work every day? Go to the gym? Do homework or anything for that matter? There are two different types of motivation, extrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards, such as money, fame, grades, and praise. The motivation that arises from outside the individual as opposed to internal motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal factors. Reading a book for personal pleasure, or because you genuinely want to gain the knowledge from that material.

Despite, at times, feeling distracted, or lacking motivation, all people can find both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to get things done. People go to work to keep earning their paycheck, athletes work hard in the offseason for the in-season rewards, and to win a championship. Humans also do things simply because they enjoy them, you don't have to play a sport just for the accolades, some play sports for the love of the game.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is a big reason why most people do the things that they do throughout the course of a day and their lives. Some people lose weight to impress others, while, all too often, children only clean up after themselves or do their homework because their parents are rewarding them with their favorite dinner or a new toy. These factors are known before someone starts doing the activity, task, etc. to the one doing the task know they will be rewarded.

These extrinsic factors of motivation aren't always tangible rewards. Some people do things because they need or want the praise that comes with a job well done. Another example would be an actor taking a role they're not necessarily crazy about, but know that production will increase their audience and provide them with fame. Or, a student doing their homework in order to get a good grade on the exam, these are all psychological examples of extrinsic motivation.

Shoppers can also make decisions based on extrinsic motivation. Making a store decision based on a rewards system, or because you have a company credit card is another example.

External Factors of Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is prevalent in everyday life for most if not all people. Employees will be tempted to work harder in return for a raise, students want better grades and athletes want to improve their skills. Using a credit card for the airline miles rewards program is another example of extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation can be largely beneficial in most cases, but it's not the only form of motivation out there.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within oneself. Doing something because the act of doing it brings joy. Examples of intrinsic motivation include acceptance, curiosity, and independence. These are all factors that come from within one's desires, which often become the biggest motivational factor, but sometimes these factors just aren't enough. That's when people will refer to extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is something that can really be lacking with people struggling with anxiety and depression. That feeling of being incapable of getting out of bed, that the world is collapsing in on you, will make it difficult to find the motivation within yourself to go to work, do your homework, or go to the gym. In these cases, maybe you'll be able to get out of bed and have a productive day when those external factors are dragging you out of bed due to the need to make money, get good grades or get in better shape.

Internal Factors of Motivation

It's been suggested that people are more creative doing tasks they find rewarding. They don't have that outside influence pushing them to get the project done, it's getting done out of enjoyment. People would be more likely to take their time to ensure having the perfect result. When the extrinsic motivation is there, the task gets done in return for the reward, whether it be tangible or psychological and therefore the end product could be less than perfect.

Overjustification Effect

The overjustification effect is something that can commonly be seen in children, but it can affect anybody. The overjustification effect comes in when extrinsic motivation interferes with intrinsic motivations. The most popular example of this comes from the study done by Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett. This study revealed that when children were rewarded for things they already enjoyed doing, they lose the intrinsic motivation for doing those activities. In the study, Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett took children who enjoyed using felt pens on their own time. 

They then gave the children an extrinsic motivation for using the felt pen instead of doing it simply for their joy. The study found that when the extrinsic motivation interfered with the internal, the children lost all intrinsic motivation for using the felt pen. The children refused to use the pen without reaping some sort of reward. This is the overjustification effect.

Which type of motivation is best?

That depends if it's an activity that one normally would not enjoy doing, extrinsic motivation would probably work best since the internal motivation is already lacking. Or, if someone has a lack of motivation generally, due to depression, anxiety or any other mental illness that causes a lack of internal drive. However, if it's an activity that someone already enjoys doing, don't offer any sort of extrinsic motivation. The use of extrinsic motivation is likely to cancel out the intrinsic motivation already felt, and that extrinsic motivation will be needed every time something needs to get done.

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