Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

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Motivation can be observed or experienced as a combination of focus and exertion towards specific outcomes. It is goal-oriented, arising from a quality of willfulness and desire (for a positive result) or in the negative case, based in aversion and avoidance of undesirable or threatening prospects.

It is also possible to conceive of more ambiguous and general feelings of love, affinity, devotion etc. (or their opposites) as a source of motivation through benevolent acts of care, service, generosity, and similar, stemming from a type of motivation that is less immediate and tangible yet still a significant and coherent force of action within the individual.

Motivation is what moves us to action. Ultimately this leads to an existential and metaphysical inquiry of values, culture, biology, and cognition.


The fundamental dichotomy suggested here (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) posits that motivations can be distinguished as either arising within and through the individual as a self-regulated phenomenon or by imposition from external sources or structures without a sense of free adoption or adaptation by the subject persons.

From Alexander Kjerulf at

This graphic below shows a relationship between four types of motivation in two dimensions:

First, motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when you want to do something. Extrinsic motivation is when somebody else tries to make you do something.

Secondly, there is positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation is when you want to get something - motivation towards some goal. Negative motivation is away from something you want to avoid.

Let’s see why three of the quadrants are useless for creating motivation. Without relying on a system of rewards and punishments, positive intrinsic motivation may be the only reliable motivational logic of peer production.

Graphic from


Another typology, of "Social Value Orientations Categories", from Wikipedia:

"Social value orientations are based on the assumption that individuals pursue different goals when making decisions for which the outcomes affect others. Social psychologists generally distinguish between five types of social value orientations. The main difference between each category is the extent to which one cares about his or her own payoffs and that of the other in social dilemma situations.

  • Altruistic: Desire to maximize the welfare of the other
  • Cooperative: Desire to maximize joint outcomes
  • Individualistic: Desire to maximize own welfare with no concern of that of the other
  • Competitive: Desire to maximize own welfare relative to that of the other
  • Aggressive: Desire to minimize the welfare of the other"



Why Extrinsic Motivation Doesn't Work

From Alfred Kohn:

"If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right." (

"extrinsic motivation has some serious drawbacks:

1. It’s not sustainable - As soon as you withdraw the punishment or reward, the motivation disappears.

2. You get diminishing returns - If the punishment or rewards stay at the same levels, motivation slowly drops off. To get the same motivation next time requires a bigger reward.

3. It hurts intrinsic motivation - Punishing or rewarding people for doing something removes their own innate desire to do it on their own. From now on you must punish/reward every time to get them to do it."

Factors that promote intrinsic motivation

"What enhances intrinsic motivation? This webpage cites some research and lists the factors that create and sustain intrinsic motivation. The list includes:

  • Challenge - Being able to challenge yourself and accomplish new tasks.
  • Control - Having choice over what you do.
  • Cooperation - Being able to work with and help others.
  • Recognition - Getting meaningful, positive recognition for your work.

To these I would add:

  • Happiness at work - People who like their job and their workplace are much more likely to find intrinsic motivation.
  • Trust - When you trust the people you work with, intrinsic motivation is much easier."

How to avoid the Crowding Out of intrinsic motivation by extrinsic rewards

From a study by Tobias Assman on Incentives for Participation at

"The effects of external interventions on intrinsic motivation have been attributed to two psychological processes:

(a) Impaired self-determination. When individuals perceive an external intervention to reduce their self-determination, they substitute intrinsic motivation by extrinsic control. Following Rotter (1966), the locus of control shifts from the inside to the outside of the person affected. Individuals who are forced to behave in a specific way by outside intervention, feel overjustified if they maintained their intrinsic motivation.

(b) Impaired self-esteem. When an intervention from outside carries the notion that the actor's motivation is not acknowledged, his or her intrinsic motivation is effectively rejected. The person affected feels that his or her involvement and competence is not appreciated which debases its value. An intrinsically motivated person is taken away the chance to display his or her own interest and involvement in an activity when someone else offers a reward, or commands, to undertake it. As a result of impaired self-esteem, individuals reduce effort.

The two processes identified allow us to derive the psychological conditions under which the crowding-out effect appears:

(1) External interventions crowd-out intrinsic motivation if the individuals affected perceive them to be controlling. In that case, both self-determination and self-esteem suffer, and the individuals react by reducing their intrinsic motivation in the activity controlled.

(2) External interventions crowd-in intrinsic motivation if the individuals concerned perceive it as supportive. In that case, self-esteem is fostered, and individuals feel that they are given more freedom to act, thus enlarging self-determination

Key Books to Read

Alfie Kohn. Punished by Rewards. Info at

Daniel Pink. Drive. Info at

More Information

  1. Really great TED talk about the topic by Daniel Pink:
  2. Lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA
  3. Podcast about intrinsic motivation at
  4. See our entry on the Crowding Out phenomenon.
  5. Graphic at