Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation: Difference, Definition and Examples

We all have reasons for the choices we make in life, compounded by the influences on our motivation. For some, it can be outside influences of external factors of rewards and punishments that push us towards something we seek. For others, it can be something internal that drives us where there’s no big reward awaiting us at the end of the road chosen. Many people find themselves attracted to one side or the other when it comes to motivation. But what are the differences? How can one tell which side they seem to favor?

Read on to learn about different types of actions that contribute to one being either extrinsic or intrinsic when it comes to personal pursuits, explained through three examples of each motivation.

Extrinsic Motivations

Sports With Awards

While some play sports for fun, others do so competitively. They know that by the time they score that final point or cross that finish, there will be a medal, trophy, or some other shiny accolade awaiting them for their victory. The chance to obtain that award to proclaim a win makes the drive to play that sport seem all the more important and motivation enough to train, train, and train some more.

Parental Punishment

Every parent is familiar with this line of reasoning, that if their child doesn’t clean their room they won’t get [insert thing they want here]. It could be anything from something as simple as access to a cookie or a chance to go out with their friends for the night. This is nearly an unavoidable motivation when it comes to kids who have yet to perceive the value in doing chores. What they do understand easily is that completing these tasks will lead to a freedom of an allowance, a sweet, a social outing, or some other prize or activity a child loves most.

Moving Up In School

Within several learning institutions, the desire to learn come not so much from the content itself but where we want to go. If we want to move up to another grade next year, we need to pass our classes and show that we know the material. If we want to get into a good college, we take the proper testing after much studying. And if we want a good job, we go to college and complete a course in the field we have chosen. From this perspective, we learn more for where we want to be.

Intrinsic Motivations

For The Thrill of the Game

Sometimes sports don’t have to be competitive with an end goal in mind for the winner. Some people just enjoy tossing a ball around for the pleasure of play. The same goes for video games and board games, where the very activity of friendly competition is enough to make one get into the game and participate.

Clean For Clean Sake

There’s a sense of pride that one feels from cleaning up your living space. And for many, that’s all the motivation they need to make the bed, vacuum the carpet, or do the laundry. Even if they’re not expecting guests, there’s a desire to keep things tidy and orderly for the satisfaction of a clean environment. One could argue that the clean room itself is a reward and that it may be considered extrinsic in this light but it’s all about perspective. For most, a clean room is not just its own reward but a means of order within their area of living.

For The Love of Knowledge

For those that enjoy a good stroll through the library or bookstore, some are motivated to pick up a book not for a report or a test. They just enjoy studying up on fascinating subjects for the thrill of learning something new. This same sense of personal educational fulfillment also applies to crossword puzzles, overlapping with the sense of excitement that comes more from the game than the goal. Such motivations of taking joy in learning can make books seem more of a recreational pleasure than a chore to pursue.

Based on these examples of how the different motivations appear, it would appear that intrinsic is more favorable. Though you may have noticed that extrinsic tends to favor more for the motivation of younger people to improve their scope of knowledge and disciplines, research has found that too much of the extrinsic motivations can hinder a shift towards intrinsic. Someone who may have gone their whole life living under their parents’ wing receiving a reward for cleaning their room may be less likely to do so living on their own for the benefit of keeping their place clean. This is called the overjustification effect and it can be damaging when it comes to one pursuing acts of work, chores, and even play of their own doing.

But let’s keep things in perspective here, as we’re not merely talking parenting or childhood motivations. Many adults also use extrinsic motivation to keep them going and it’s not entirely a bad thing. An incentive can be not just a factor in pursuing an activity but striving to achieve it better. Competition can bring one to do better, to prove they can do better and be the best that they can be. You see it everywhere from scholarships to writing competitions to sporting events. These incentives can be beneficial for one to improve themselves and their disciplines, be they children or adults.

The important thing to realize about the two motivations is not so much a balance but a combination that will equal out to one being motivated. One can be very intrinsic but they need not fear or cast off any extrinsic motivation if it comes unexpectedly or from time to time. True, extrinsic can be a hindrance but it can also warm someone young up to the possibility of doing something on their own, where the reward and the satisfaction becomes a dual force of pushing someone to do their best. However you find yourself being driven, it’s important to know what keeps you going and how to seek a balance of rewards and self-satisfaction.


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