Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – Theory, Differences & Examples

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How many times have you been completely absorbed by an activity that you haven’t even noticed how quickly the time passed? An activity that wasn’t necessarily related to your job or obligation.

It could be anything that you love doing without being asked for, without expecting a reward, or being paid. This is intrinsic motivation, and it happens because you feel an inner desire to do it, not because you have to.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is reward-driven and keeps you focused on activities you might not necessarily love. The reward can vary from tangible rewards, such as money, presents, or holidays, to abstract concepts like fame, glory, or praise.

So, how can these distinctive motivation types affect our behavior? Can they have an impact on the way we make decisions, prioritize things, and make choices? Can we select or control them? Read below to discover all about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

What is Intrinsic Motivation? Definition and Theory

Intrinsic motivation represents the act of performing an activity that a person finds enjoyable, fulfilling, and engaging without expecting any reward.

The motivation comes from within, and there’s no external motivator that encourages the person to perform the activity. Doing the activity is a reward itself, i.e., the engagement in the activity makes the person feel satisfied.

For instance, writing an essay because you love pouring your emotions on a piece of paper is an example of intrinsic motivation.

Multiple theories have been developed to explain intrinsic motivation, how it differs from extrinsic motivation, and how it shapes people’s behavior.

Since people’s needs are generally divided into three types – basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs (Maslow’s Pyramid), intrinsic motivation usually fulfills psychological needs.

When a person is intrinsically motivated, the person seeks personal satisfaction and internal reward. These activities are usually enjoyable, fun, inspiring, and enhance the feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.

Intrinsic motivation is necessary for a person to show genuine interest in a given topic without being particularly stimulated. Many psychologists consider intrinsic motivation essential when learning and doing new activities.

Even though you can’t control intrinsic motivation, numerous factors can enhance it and positively affect the individual. These include curiosity, challenge, recognition, cooperation, fantasy, and desire to provide help and assistance.

What is Extrinsic Motivation? Definition and Theory

When a person does an activity because of financial or social rewards, this motivation is called extrinsic. Not that the person wouldn’t do the activity otherwise, just that he/she needs reinforcement to stay focused on it.

Defined as a form of operant conditioning, extrinsic motivation can decrease or increase depending on the incentives or the stimuli (rewards and punishment). 

A typical example of extrinsic motivation is being paid to do a job or working overtime to get a promotion. In both cases, you dedicate your time and effort because you expect a financial reward or recognition (learn more on how to motivate your work team).

This, in turn, will provide a better social status and the ability to enjoy your life by having enough means to afford things that make you feel satisfied.

Differences Between Intrinsic Motivation Vs Extrinsic Motivation

In the quest to find out what drives us, researchers have come up with several propositions that explain motivation.

They have been focused on different motivation sources, the most dominant being those that arise from the outside ( extrinsic motivation) and those that arise from inside us (intrinsic motivation). 

Depending on the motivation type a person has, the duration and the intensity of the activity that one performs can vary.

Since extrinsic motivation comes from external sources, it remains powerful as long as those sources are powerful enough to fuel it. 

On the flip side, intrinsic motivation comes from the person itself.

It is the power and the dedication a person has when enjoying an activity, aspiring to overcome a difficulty that he/she considers challenging and stimulating, or working to achieve personal growth.

Therefore, intrinsic motivation is considered more powerful and more durable compared to extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation Extrinsic Motivation
  • Working on a project because you enjoy the process and look forward to seeing the outcome
  • Working on a project because of the bonus you get.
  • Doing a sport because you find it enjoyable and relaxing.
  • Doing a sport because you expect a reward or recognition.
  • Playing a musical instrument because you you feel accomplished and relaxed.
  • Playing a musical instrument because you’ll get a reward from your parents.
  • Studying a foreign language because you find it emotionally rewarding.
  • Studying a foreign language because you need it to get a better job.

8 Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

It is almost certain that there’s no human being that hasn’t experienced intrinsic motivation, no matter the type it is.

If you think about all those activities that you do just because you feel personal satisfaction, then it is intrinsic motivation.

Here we list 8 examples of intrinsic motivation:

  • Organizing a charity event because you like helping people, not because it might have any benefit on you personally.
  • Doing housework chores because you find these activities internally rewarding, and you enjoy the clean space rather than trying to make your family happy.
  • Doing exercises because you feel inspired and energized, not because you expect to lose weight and make your partner happy.
  • Doing overtime because you genuinely show interest in the work you do rather than expecting recognition or promotion.
  • Meeting new people because you love socializing and sharing ideas with different personalities, not because of social status.
  • Doing a creative job because it is relaxing and calms you down, not because of the possibilities to sell your work and earn money.
  • Taking part in charity work to satisfy your internal need for justice and equality, not because it was somebody’s requirement.
  • Volunteering – you see it as a way to enhance your strengths, not because you were asked to do it or expect to get social recognition.

9 Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation can be a powerful drive, particularly if the expected reward can have long-term benefits. The motivating rewards can be of financial, social, or psychological nature.

9 examples of extrinsic motivation are:

  • Working for a salary
  • Working overtime to get a promotion or a bonus
  • Social engagement to gain better social status
  • Referring a product/site to a friend to get a discount or bonus
  • Customer loyalty discounts
  • Helping other people for praise or appreciation
  • Doing a favor for another benefit
  • Studying for grades, not for knowledge
  • Doing something for social appraisal

How Effective Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Even though intrinsic motivation is generally considered more powerful and more long-lasting, external rewards can be motivating enough for some people to be consistent in their performance.

Yet, it is more person-based rather than generalized. 

There’s a phenomenon called over justification when a person who shows a genuine interest in the activity loses motivation because of being over-rewarded.

Several studies support this theory and have shown that external rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation. Therefore, it is highly recommended that extrinsic rewards are given sparingly so that their value and effect remain constant.

Intrinsic Motivation in Parenting – Theory with Examples

Parents often feel perplexed when it comes to motivating and stimulating their children.

External rewards seem to be the preferred choice more often than not, so children do certain activities only because of the promised reward, rather than personal desire or interest.

In the long run, the effect could be entirely lost or even counterproductive.

Since intrinsic motivation appears to provide numerous benefits, children should be prompted to develop internal motivation for doing certain activities.

The effect will mostly depend on the child’s personality and how the parents introduce and stimulate given tasks and activities.

Yet, the following ways can help parents foster intrinsic motivation:

  • Children should be allowed to express their opinion on a given matter and show their feelings about it. In case they have negative feelings on certain tasks, try to find out the cause for that, and compensate the activity for another one.
  • Children get more intrinsically motivated when they have choices to pick from instead of feeling that they are being pressured to do an activity as a must.
  • It has been scientifically proven that children learn the most when they play. Therefore, turn any adverse (for them) activity into a game and let them find pleasure while performing the task.
  • Enhance their self-confidence by presenting and encouraging them to master certain age-appropriate skills. That way, they will feel competent and successful.
  • Help your children see the real value of doing the activity and the impact it can have on them and the surrounding. Emphasize the importance of appreciating internal benefits, and help them focus on moral and personal growth instead of focusing on external rewards.
  • Encourage creativity and independence by letting them dedicate their time and effort to things that make them feel happy and free. Let them work independently and discuss their ideas freely, no matter how irrational they might sound to you.

Extrinsic Motivation in Parenting

Extrinsic motivation can be a very useful tool when parents need to teach their children obedience, responsibilities, and dedication to doing given tasks.

However, parents need to be very careful what kind of external rewards they use and how often they implement them in their parenting styles.

Some studies have shown that uncontrolled extrinsic motivation can have a long-term negative effect on children’s behavior and habits.

For instance, if a child learns that a higher allowance is the reward for performing better at school, then he/she is not likely to develop a solid understanding of why education matters and the benefit it delivers.

Also, if giving certain food (cookies, candies, chocolate) comes from doing a task better, the child might develop an unhealthy relationship with some food types.

However, extrinsic motivation plays a significant role when teaching children a new task, fostering a routine, or enhancing their development.

Particularly if the motivation comes as praise or letting the child watch their favorite show.

But, even in situations like these, make sure that the motivators are periodically given so that your child doesn’t get obsessed with the reward.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Teachers today face numerous challenges. Among the most prominent and persistent issues found in almost any classroom is the lack of students’ engagement and motivation.

Students seem to feel uninterested, and it is getting harder and harder for teachers to spark their curiosity and desire to learn.

Knowing how to foster students’ intrinsic motivation would be the key to success, as this motivation has the potential to make students eager to learn and develop.

Extrinsic motivation can play a role too. However, as we mentioned earlier, in some cases, it can cause more harm than good. So what is the right way to foster students’ motivation? 

Much research has been done in this field, and the data points that using phased extrinsic motivation while developing intrinsic motivation works the best.

Yet, as all people have different needs and react differently to various stimuli, there’s no unified way of enhancing students’ intrinsic motivation. 

Yet, some approaches have shown excellent results in enhancing students’ curiosity and inner desire to learn and accomplish more.

Here are some of the most recommended ideas of how to spark students’ motivation and involvement in class:

  • Get to know your students

When you get closer to your students and start understanding their personal needs, you will get an intuitive sense of what drives them.
You can then develop your course in line with their specific needs and expectations. You can introduce a variety of teaching tools like technology, creative thinking, individual and group work.

  • Foundation is the key for further development

If you want to truly see progress in your students, make sure that everyone has a solid foundation. Only when students understand the basics of the subject are they willing to explore its potentials further.

  • Encourage students to widen their horizons

When students take on assignments that satisfy their curiosity, they are less focused on getting a good grade. Stress the importance of knowledge and provide examples of how it can shape their lives.

  • Allow students to spend more time on what truly draws them

Even though students must learn all the subjects and show progress, not all topics are equally appealing.
So, if there is a possibility, discuss which subjects are the most interesting to each student and spend more time exploring that subject. You can also be less demanding for subjects that students don’t feel interested in at all.

  • Mutually define classroom rules and principles

When students take part in creating the rules, they are more likely to obey those rules.
Being involved in the process would increase their active involvement as they will have a sense of ownership.

Pros and Cons of Intrinsic Motivation

No matter what you’re doing, if you have passion for it, it is the intrinsic motivation at work.

Doing something for the sake of it and the internal feeling of satisfaction are sufficient to get you to the moon and back.

Yet, since we live in a limiting society where we must comply with moral and social standards and provide and create for a living, intrinsic motivation is often limited.

This is where external motivators come to play. While intrinsic motivation seems necessary for prolonged interest and long-term effect, it does have certain cons that you must be aware of.

So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of intrinsic motivation.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

  • Passion for working

This is the key element of intrinsic motivation.
The inner desire pushes people to work effortlessly, spend hours absorbed in the activity without stressing out, enjoying the whole process.

  • Find purpose in the activity

When you are intrinsically motivated, you can find a purpose beyond the obvious and contribute where necessary.

  • A desire for improvement

Nothing seems difficult when you feel internally drawn to do a certain activity.  This involves having extra classes, finding a tutor, asking for feedback, and follow tutorials.

  • Desire to help others

If you are intrinsically motivated, you find no excuses or hesitation when someone asks for help. On the contrary, you feel passionate about it and are happy to give a hand.

Drawbacks of Intrinsic Motivation

Even though it might appear ideal, there are some disadvantages related to intrinsic motivation.

Some examples include:

  • There’s no end goal

Working out of pleasure is a great thing, and the reward is the activity itself. However, if there’s no predetermined end goal, the results might not be evident and easily get lost within the process.
In such cases, you might get the feeling that everything you do is in vain. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you still need to have a goal that you aspire to reach even when you are intrinsically motivated.

  • You can’t teach or learn it

Since it comes from within the person, you can’t transfer or teach it to anyone. Also, unless you want it, you won’t learn how to get a passion for something.

Pros and Cons of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motion plays a substantial role in our daily lives. We all work for money, after all.

However, as we mentioned above, it needs to be controlled so that the effect doesn’t get diminished and to avoid the overjustification effect at the same time.

The following are some pros and cons of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation Pros

  • Boosts motivation to do a certain job

This is where extrinsic motivation works the best. When you have to do a job that you are not very passionate about, it is the external reward that keeps you engaged.

  • Defines specific goals

Defining goals and working to reach them is also extrinsic, as internal motivation never involves goal setting.

  • Keeps people dedicated and focused

Take, for example, your job. It might not be your ideal job. However, you keep doing it as it provides you with the means to live a decent life and pay your bill.

Extrinsic Motivation Cons

Extrinsic motivators are inspiring to a certain point, but they must be managed adequately to provide a long-term effect.

Some of the drawbacks include:

  • You need to either modify the rewards or scale them up

Salary increase, bonuses, special recognitions, promotions, extra allowances, everything comes into play if the person is only externally motivated.

  • It can have negative implications in the long run

If people expect a reward for everything they do, it can backfire at a certain point and lead to either a total reward dependency or inefficiency.

  • It can cause the overjustification effect

In case a person is intrinsically motivated, the overuse of external motivators can cause overjustification, i.e., causing the person to lose interest and passion for the job or the activity he/she is doing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

How to use Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation to Motivate Students?

Try to get to know your students, their personalities, and their preferences. Then try to implement various teaching tools, activities, and technologies so that students get engaged in class.

Allow students to express their opinions, create classroom rules together, and let them spend more time on topics they find attracted to. That way, you’ll spark their intrinsic motivation.

To keep them engaged, offer them special prizes, better grades, or participation in certain school groups or clubs.

What is Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Psychology?

Intrinsic motivation is when a person does an activity because it is personally satisfying, challenging, or pleasurable, without expecting any reward after completing it. The motivation comes from within the person, and it is not triggered by anything.

Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside. It is a reward-driven behavior where the person does an activity only because he/she expects a financial, psychological, or social reward.

What is Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation in sport?

When an athlete participates in a sports activity out of pleasure, fun, or personal satisfaction, it is an example of intrinsic motivation. The main drive is the passion he/she feels when doing the sport.

On the other hand, when somebody participates in sports activities to win and get a prize, it is an example of extrinsic motivation.

Can intrinsic and extrinsic motivation be measured quantitatively or qualitatively?

The quantitative dimension of motivation can be measured on a scale from high to low. Highly motivated people usually engage in activities with lots of passion, feeling, and intensity.

In contrast, unmotivated people tend to procrastinate and show no interest even when asked to do something related to the activity.

The qualitative dimensions of motivation usually include the level of engagement, shown by asking for more data, resources, or information, attempting to finish the task quickly or thoroughly, or, in cases of no motivation, the tendency to give up.


Motivation is an essential drive that moves people from inactive to active engagement in different activities. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a substantial part in how individuals approach tasks and engagement.

Intrinsic motivation is considered essential, as it comes from the inside of a person, and it creates a passion for doing something without expecting a reward.

Therefore, for a lasting effect, people need to find what intrinsically motivates them to endure. Extrinsic rewards are also important within the process, as they set goals and show measurable results.

However, it is important not to over-use them as people might lose interest, i.e., cause the overjustification effect.

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