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Free «Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic» Essay Sample


The current state of research into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is abundant. Both types of motivation have far-reaching implications for educational and organizational practices. The goal of this paper is to reconsider the basic premises of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The paper provides operational definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and their main features. Advantages and weaknesses of both types of motivation are described. Recommendations for future research are provided.

Keywords: intrinsic, extrinsic, motivation.

 Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

The current state of research into human motivation is abundant. Much has been written and said about the far-reaching implications of motivation for education and organizational development. However, not everyone understands that motivation is a complex multifaceted phenomenon, which varies not only by level but also by orientation. Motivation can be intrinsically or extrinsically oriented, and these differences are of huge importance for education and organization professionals. More often than not, the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is described as the difference between an internal interest to do something and an extrinsic separable reward provided for doing the same thing. In reality, the difference between these two types of motivation is much more complicated, and the goal of this paper is to review the basic premises, operational definitions, features, advantages and disadvantages of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.



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Intrinsic Motivation

Generally, to be motivated means to be willing to do something. A person who does not feel willingness to act is described as unmotivated, whereas a person who has energy and decisiveness to act toward the desired goal is regarded as motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is often considered as a more solid predictor of individual decisiveness, activity, and persistence toward the desired end, than extrinsic motivation. This is mainly because intrinsic motivation comes from within, while extrinsic motivation is associated with the provision of external, separable rewards. “Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence” (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 56). An intrinsically motivated person acts not because of the presence or absence of external rewards, but because he (she) is inherently interested in or satisfied by being involved in a particular task (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Intrinsic motivation is a vital ingredient of human development and growth. Since the moment of birth and until the last day of their lives, humans display their commitment to being active, explorative, and interested in doing a variety of things (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Humans are well-known for their desire to learn and improve themselves (Ryan & Deci, 2000). They have a natural tendency to develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally. These activities reflect the constant human interest in novelty (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It is through intrinsic motivation that humans develop new skills and apply them in practice. Intrinsic motivation is a feature of human nature that has prolonged impacts on human performance and self-growth across the life-span. Yet, it is interesting to note, that intrinsic motivation is not only within individuals, but also between individuals and between them and their tasks (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In other words, different individuals are intrinsically motivated to engage in different types of activities. The presence of intrinsic motivation does not mean that people want to do anything just for the sake of doing; rather, the choices individuals make in their self-realization activities depend on numerous personal and contextual factors.

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Intrinsic motivation is also associated with rewards. For intrinsically motivated individuals, the main reward is the activity itself (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Therefore, task characteristics may play a role in how individuals choose the most interesting activities. For example, it is possible to assume that individuals are intrinsically motivated to engage in activities that satisfy their innate psychological needs (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Simultaneously, the role of free choice in intrinsic motivation should not be disregarded. Actually, the free choice aspect of intrinsic motivation can become an essential rewarding factor for individuals who are inherently willing to engage in a particular type of activity. Intrinsically motivated individuals are often free to choose the tasks they like. Free choice can also facilitate the development of intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Other conditions that conduce individuals toward expressing and using intrinsic motivation may include the sense of autonomy, the feeling of competence to do something, positive performance feedback, as well as the ability to control the direction of the activity and its frequency (Ryan & Deci, 2000). All these features make intrinsic motivation dramatically different from extrinsic motivation, which is inseparably linked to extrinsic rewards.

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Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation differs greatly from intrinsic motivation. The former comes into play, when the person wants to attain some separable outcome (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In other words, extrinsic motivation does not come from within but emerges, whenever individuals seek to obtain some instrumental value from their activities (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Extrinsic motivation is also called ‘outer-directed’ motivation, since it develops outside the individual and often becomes a good means to achieve a tangible end (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007). Among the most common drivers of extrinsic motivation are good grades, monetary rewards, promotions and bonuses (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007). Extrinsic motivation implies that individuals may not have an inherent interest in doing a particular activity but do it merely for the sake of tangible rewards. Consequently, the goal is not to participate in a particular activity but use the participation to get the desired reward (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).

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Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations constantly interact. At times, it is difficult to distinguish between the two. For example, a student may do his homework simply because he fears that his parents will not let him go to the cinema with friends. This is where extrinsic motivation predetermines the student’s persistence to cope with the homework as soon as possible: the student is not interested in the activity but wants to obtain an instrumental value. In the meantime, the same student may be interested in doing his homework, because he enjoys the process and also wants to go to the cinema with friends. Extrinsic rewards will increase his intrinsic motivation to cope with his home assignments. Yet, extrinsic rewards cannot always bring intrinsically motivated individuals to the desired end.

            Among factors that impede intrinsic motivation extrinsic rewards are the most common: many educators and organization professionals believe that extrinsic rewards kill intrinsic motivation and have numerous hidden costs (Benabou & Tirole, 2003). On one hand, extrinsic rewards are claimed to shift individuals’ attention from the process of task activity to the reward they get in return (Benabou & Tirole, 2003). On the other hand, extrinsic rewards are believed to decrease individuals’ willingness to be persistent and progress in their activities: extrinsically motivated individuals become less progress- and more performance-oriented (Benabou & Tirole, 2003). As the complexity of individual behaviors increases, it becomes even more difficult to determine and eliminate the source of external rewards (Dickinson, 1989). Nonetheless, it is at least incorrect to say that extrinsic motivation is unnecessary, harmful, or insignificant.

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Intrinsic versus Extrinsic: Benefits and Drawbacks

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are necessary for children and adults to develop and grow, but the benefits of intrinsic motivation are more obvious. “It is intrinsic motivation that helps individuals make sustained progress toward significant goals, learn to take risks and explore, and develop their potential to the fullest” (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007, p. 33). Intrinsic motivation re-orients individuals towards long-term progress rather than short-term results. However, those who are extrinsically motivated may need less resources and efforts to achieve their goals (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007). Moreover, intrinsic motivation may not be easy to develop and maintain. Ideally, it is through a reasonable balance of intrinsic motivation and extrinsic rewards that individuals can realize their professional and creative potentials to the fullest. Future researchers should focus on the development of specific motivation measurements, to determine an ideal combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors.

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The current state of research provides abundant information about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Differences between these two types of motivation and their implications for education and organization have been profoundly explored. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. Extrinsic motivation is based on external rewards. Both types of motivation are necessary for children and adults to learn, develop, and grow. However, the benefits of intrinsic motivation are more obvious. Future researchers should focus on the development of an ideal combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors.


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