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Extrinsic Motivation


Explanations > Theories > Extrinsic Motivation

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 



Extrinsic motivation is when I am motivated by external factors, as opposed to the internal drivers of intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation drives me to do things for tangible rewards or pressures, rather than for the fun of it.

When I do something, I have to explain why I do it. If I am being rewarded extrinsically for doing it, then I can explain to myself that I am doing it for the reward. In this way, rewards can decrease internal motivation as people work to gain the reward rather than because they like doing the work or believe it is a good thing to do.

In effect, extrinsic motivations can change a pleasurable into work.

There are three primary types of extrinsic motivation, as in the table below:


Motivation Behavior sustained by... Example
External motivation ...environmental reward or punishment contingencies. Do work because paid to do it.
Introjected motivation ...desire to avoid internally imposed guilt and recrimination. Do work to earn money to sustain family.
Identified motivation ...desire to express important self-identifications. Do work because it is 'what I want to do'.


In addition, a fourth type of extrinsic motivation, integrated regulation, has been described. In this case rules and regulations are fully assimilated into the person, their models and beliefs. This form is very close to intrinsic motivation in effect, though the original source is external.


Lepper, Greene and Nisbett (1973) asked two groups of children to do some drawings. One group was promised a 'good player medal' for their work and the other was promised nothing. On a return visit, the groups were given paper and crayons and what they did was observed. The group who had been given the medal for drawing previously spent significantly less this time drawing as compared with the no-reward group.


Supermarkets use loyalty cards and discounts, airlines use air miles, companies use bonuses and commissions. Extrinsic motivation is everywhere.

So what?

Using it

You can offer positive motivations such as rewards and other bribery or you can use negative motivation such as threats and blackmail. Either way, extrinsic motivation is crude, easy and often effective. However it focuses people on the reward and not the action. Stop giving the reward and they’ll stop the behavior. This can, in fact, be useful when you want them to stop doing something: first give them extrinsic rewards for doing the unwanted behavior, then remove the reward.

See also

Intrinsic motivation, Overjustification Effect, Using threats


Deci (1971), Petri (1991), Lepper, Greene and Nisbett (1973), Deci and Ryan (1985)


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