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Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

We are intrinsically motivated when we want to do something for its own sake, interest and enjoyment and when we get a feeling of satisfaction during rather than after an activity.

Participation is its own reward and doesn't depend on incentives or disincentives. We are intrinsically motivated to meet our needs for knowledge and understanding, a sense of competence and accomplishment, self-determination, stimulation and involvement with and approval of others, exemplified perfectly in young children's play. We nurture peoples' intrinsic motivation when we encourage their curiosity, enjoyment, mastery and independence.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is a desire to act in order to make something happen that you want or to stop something that you don't want. The desire to act is stimulated by a reward out-with the individual. Equally the desire may be stimulated by avoidance of undesirable consequences. So extrinsic motivation is about action as a means to an end.

Rather than thinking in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as opposite poles each form of motivation may also be considered as separate dimensions, each ranging from high to low. For any given activity, we may have a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. For example a young child who has very little intrinsic motivation for learning to play the piano will require a great deal of extrinsic motivation through inducements from parents or teachers. As the child progresses, intrinsic motivation may increase and the need for extrinsic motivation will be correspondingly less. As these dimensions characterise people in relation to specific activities they can change over time and sudden changes in level of intrinsic motivation are not uncommon. Success clearly requires us to attend to both intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation. Working on a task for intrinsic reasons however is not only more enjoyable, but it also helps learning and achievement. In turn, learning helps promote intrinsic motivation.  

Copyright: Alan McLean, 2006

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