Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?

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Why are we driven to achieve specific goals? What inspires us to work harder and stay committed? What reminds you to take an extra lap or beat a deadline even when you’re tired? And why do you see a decision through no matter what?

Our choices and determination to do things are inspired by different reward factors. But everyone has a different motivation.

Motivation energizes human behavior and influences how we work and live our lives. Even a lack of motivation explains some of our decisions.

When it comes to work, studies have shown that positively motivated employees are more productive and less likely to leave their organizations.

Understanding the Types of Motivation 

While there are numerous types of motivation, they can be grouped into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Both motivations inspire us differently. Understanding which one drives your actions can help you maintain your passion and motivate others.

Sometimes, you review your work for peace of mind and other times you do it to avoid steep consequences. You could sponsor your coworker’s lunch because you’re feeling generous or because you want them to recharge for the next round of work.

In this article, we’ll cover both types of motivation, their differences and benefits, and how to use them to boost productivity and inspire others.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation drives you to achieve a goal for personal satisfaction. This type of motivation originates from inside you. It mostly stems from the desire to feel good about yourself, excel, and achieve self-fulfillment. 

It is attributed to self-determination rather than restraint, obligation, pressure, or fear.

So, when you’re intrinsically motivated, you engage in activities because they trigger positive emotions and a sense of satisfaction. You can take pride in or derive enjoyment from the results or processes of these activities.

If you’re primarily driven by intrinsic motivation, you’re considered a self-determined person.

Examples of activities stimulated by intrinsic motivation:

  • Working extra hours because it makes you feel fulfilled
  • Reading a book because you are curious about a story or topic
  • Exercising because it keeps you calm
  • Learning a new language because you like to explore and experience new things
  • Arranging your work and living area because you enjoy keeping things tidy

What is Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is inspired by external factors and rewards. These rewards could be money, fame, praise, grades, or fear of punishment.

Unlike intrinsic motivation, your behaviors are not driven by self-fulfillment or satisfaction. You do things for external benefits or to avoid negative consequences.

Sometimes, extrinsic motivation forces you to drop things you’re intrinsically motivated to do. For example, you could be employed in a job you don’t naturally love. It’s possible you prefer some other line of work, but the pay is significantly lower. So, you have to work the former job because you need to pay bills.

There are physical and psychological rewards that drive extrinsic motivation. You could call them tangible and intangible rewards. 

Physical rewards include money, frequent flier rewards, competition trophies, salary increase, and sales discounts.

Psychological rewards include fame, public praise, attention, and avoidance of criticism.

Here are examples of extrinsic motivation:

  • Working extra hours because you have a deadline to beat
  • Reading a book because it’s part of your course
  • Exercising because you want to build muscles
  • Learning a new language to make money as an interpreter
  • Arranging your work or living area to find a lost item

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation: Main Differences

From what we’ve explained so far, intrinsic motivation is driven by personal satisfaction and fulfillment and extrinsic motivation is inspired by external rewards. 

It may seem like intrinsic motivation is better when you look at both for the first time. But that’s further from the truth.

Even though we’d all love to be independently motivated without needing anyone or anything to inspire us, we still need external rewards from time to time. We’ll be explaining that point and more throughout this article and you’ll see why we need both motivations.

But before we go further, let’s place examples of both motivations side by side to clearly display their differences:

Benefits of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are great sources of inspiration. They come in handy in different (or the same) situations, depending on the person. Let’s cover the advantages of each type of motivation in detail.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

Your inner drive influences your decision to pursue and do things without getting external rewards. This type of motivation can positively influence your work and social life. It is also significant for other reasons that we’ll cover below.

Enhances Levels of Persistence

When you’re intrinsically motivated, you’ll have the burning desire to see things through no matter how challenging they are. You’ll put in more effort and hours to ensure you achieve a goal because that is when you’ll have your satisfaction.

For example, you’ll be happy to put in extra work hours if you set a standard for yourself to finish projects before deadlines.

Reduces Levels of Stress

We all know the saying, “Work becomes play when you love your job.” That sentiment rings true. 

Time always flies when you’re passionate about what you do. On the other hand, you can’t wait to get home if you’re working out of necessity or want to beat a deadline.

When you’re intrinsically motivated to do something, it likely means you love doing it. With your place of work, you’ll no longer see assigned tasks as jobs, but an opportunity to pursue your interests. 

Intrinsic motivation reduces stress in this sense because you don’t feel under pressure while doing the things you do. This eliminates the stress that comes with many negative emotions. You won’t need things like stress-relieving games to stay focused at work and avoid anxiety.

Helps You Achieve Long-Term Goals

Intrinsic motivation keeps you going more than anything else. You’ll always work hard and never stop when you want to:

  • Excel to feel pride,
  • Make more money to feel safe and secure, 
  • Feel good about yourself for providing for your family, 
  • Help others because seeing them struggle makes you uncomfortable.

You’re naturally driven to ensure you are happy or at peace with yourself. 

Boosts Prosocial Engagements

Prosocial motivation is born from the desire to work with others and help them. That means you’re inspired to work within a team and help others grow. And as we know, nothing propels a company to success more than teamwork

Now, imagine an organization with individuals who have high levels of prosocial motivation.

A study published in the journal of applied psychology looked at how intrinsic motivation influenced prosocial engagements and how it impacted employees. It found that employees showcase higher levels of performance, persistence, and productivity.

For the first case study, firefighters were surveyed and monitored over a 2-month period. According to the results, firefighters with higher levels of intrinsic and prosocial motivations put in more extra hours than others.

While the first stuy tested for work rate, the second study checked for performance and productivity. 

The second study surveyed and monitored the motivations and resulting productivity of 140 fundraising callers. According to the results, callers with high intrinsic and prosocial motivations recorded an average of $510.58 in donations and 51.82 calls as against others who averaged $308.10 in donations and 40.26 calls.

While extrinsic motivation can influence your prosocial drive, intrinsic motivation does it in a different way. That’s because if you’re intrinsically motivated, you’re naturally drawn to helping others and working within a team. That means, you’ll be able to endure, listen, and assist others without getting frustrated or worked up easily.

With the help of intrinsic motivation and prosocial motivation, businesses will enjoy higher employee engagement, improved productivity, and enhanced teamwork and collaboration.

Reduced Distractions

Interruptions and distractions kill productivity. And regardless of how dedicated you are, a number of things can pull you off track at work.

According to a study by researchers from the University of California Irvine, workers lose about 23 minutes every time they get interrupted.

Studies have also shown that distractions and interruptions cause serious workplace errors.

But if you have an incredible inner drive and natural passion for what you do, you’ll be more focused. You’ll lose interest in anything else once you’re absorbed in an activity you innately enjoy.

Increased Employee Engagement

Intrinsically motivated employees don’t put in extra work for fear of punishment or to make money. Most of them work passionately because they love their jobs. As a result, they’re always happy doing what they do and won’t complain about adding extra hours.

According to a 2012 study, intrinsic motivation plays a significant role in employee turnover intention and job satisfaction. The study reported that the motivation had a negative association with the intention to leave and a positive association with employee satisfaction. The links grew even stronger when goal direction and managerial trustworthiness increased.

Benefits of Extrinsic Motivation

External rewards are useful tools for keeping people motivated and inspired to do specific things. Extrinsic motivation can be successfully applied in situations where morale is low and people need to complete time-sensitive and critical tasks.

Let’s walk you through its benefits.

Boosts Productivity

Individual employees and teams can be incentivized using external benefits to increase work rate and productivity. Also, when you always recognize employees after a job well done, they strive to replicate that work rate and efficiency for the recognition.

For example, you can promise overtime incentives to compel people to put in extra hours. Also, rewards like loyalty benefits, prospect for promotion and recognition benefits for hard work can spur employees to work harder.

A Gartner survey found that organizations with optimized recognition programs boost employee productivity by 11.1%.

Improves Employee Satisfaction and Engagement

Recognizing your employees through rewards and recognition boosts morale and increases engagement. It also builds positive relationships that foster a healthy working environment.

A Harvard Business Review study reported that 72% of surveyed businesses admitted that reward and recognition positively impacts employee engagement.

Numbers from another report by Bonusly also support this fact. The State of Employee Engagement in 2019 study found that 71% of companies with engaged workers have a culture of recognizing hard working employees.

Reduces Turnover and Boosts Loyalty

Organizations with great recognition and reward programs are considered the best to work at. That’s why employees are less likely to leave. 

It’s hardly a secret that you’ll build a loyal staff if you always recognize their efforts and crown those recognition with rewards.

The recognition programs make them believe they’re an integral part of the organization and that their work matters.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Many studies support the fact that appreciated and rewarded employees are more likely to stay in their organizations.

Consider Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation survey published in 2013. It reported that 53% of surveyed employees would stay longer at their organizations if their bosses appreciated them more.

On the flip side, an Achiever’s survey found that 44% of workers switch jobs due to lack of recognition.

Help Individuals Pursue and Achieve Practical and Useful Goals

Tangible extrinsic motivation like financial incentives motivate people to work harder and achieve things like financial freedom. 

Another example is career advancement. If an employee is motivated to climb the professional ladder because they want the recognition and fame, it doesn’t take away the fact they’re driven to get there. What matters is that the motivation is sustainable to help them see their goals through.

In the end, we all require a form of extrinsic motivation to push us to do important things.

Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation: Which is More Effective?

Everyone responds differently to both types of motivations. You can be spurred by internal factors to do things while someone else may need external rewards to accomplish them.

Different situations also determine the type of motivation required to drive you or others.

Intrinsic Motivation is Great for Long-term Goals

Intrinsic motivation is considered highly effective because personal satisfaction is a sustainable source of motivation for long-term work. You’re more likely to complete a task, no matter how long it takes, if you’re intrinsically motivated.

On the other hand, experts have argued that extrinsic motivation isn’t sustainable over a long period. That’s because rewards can lose their effect when they’re given out consistently. For example, most people will require a raise to maintain their motivation if they earn a specific salary over a particular period.

The Overjustification Effect 

Extrinsic motivation can succumb to the overjustification effect if reward is handed out too much for a task you enjoyed. The overjustification effect is a phenomenon that occurs when you lose interest in an activity you love doing because you’re being rewarded too often for it.

For example, if you love cooking and get a job as a chef, your intrinsic motivation may reduce. That’s because you may begin to value your paycheck more than your natural love for cooking. 

Extrinsic Motivation Covers a Higher Number of Tasks and Activities

The issue with intrinsic motivation is that you can’t always have it for everything. You enjoy doing some things and hate doing others. For other activities, you can be indifferent.

You need external rewards to compel you to accomplish tasks you don’t have an inner drive to tackle.

Intrinsic Motivation is Great for Learning

You’ll be more committed to learning something if the desire comes from a place of self-motivation. On the other hand, you may forget what you learnt or not learn at all if you are incentivized with external rewards.

A Grand Valley State University research published in 1996 looked into the effect of rewards on student achievement. It found that extrinsic motivation can reduce the pace of learning and cause students to make more errors. However, the learning experience will improve if the student finds it enjoyable and fulfilling.

Another study published in 2016 argued that extrinsic reward undermines long-term memory acquisition.

That said, experts still argue that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can aid learning. They believe that external rewards such as report cards, grades, and scholarships can boost intrinsic motivation by making them feel more competitive in the classroom.

David G. Meyers in his book Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules argued that extrinsic rewards, such as jobs that follow good grades, scholarships, and admissions, “are here to stay.” That’s because a person’s “enjoyment of a task may increase” if a reward makes them feel more competent.

Extrinsic Motivation can Boost Intrinsic Motivation

Researchers believe that, when administered right, extrinsic motivation can boost intrinsic motivation.

A 2002 study argued that offering positive feedback and praise when children perform better than others can enhance intrinsic motivation.

And as David G. Meyers pointed out, rewards like admissions and scholarships can inspire students intrinsically.

Also, for example, if you’re propelled by an external reward to repeatedly clean your living room, you can grow to like staying in a clean space.

When to Use Extrinsic Motivation

Many may consider intrinsic motivation the better of the two because it comes naturally. However, you can’t always have it. So, you may need external rewards to push through activities you don’t enjoy.

The problem is, offering excessive external rewards can backfire.

That said, using rewards the right way can provide great results. 

Consider that you can significantly boost your workplace mood and employee engagement by developing a great recognition program.

The following instances are great situations to use extrinsic motivation:

  • Increase someone’s interest in an activity they don’t really like
  • Motivate someone to pick up a new skill or learn something new
  • Recognize and appreciate hard work by providing feedback
  • Encourage a person to accomplish a short-term goal
  • Keep workers going at intervals during a long-term project

Don’t offer external rewards when:

  • It will make the activity a person is interested in seem more like work rather than play
  • A person already finds an activity, topic, or task enjoyable or fulfilling

It’s also recommended that you offer extrinsic rewards in moderation so that they don’t lose their effect.

Can You Develop Intrinsic Motivation?

We’ve mentioned throughout this article that since intrinsic motivation lives inside of you, it doesn’t exist in every situation. After all, there are activities you’re not interested in.

But what if you can develop intrinsic motivation for specific activities? You can try. Let’s show you how.

Use the Self-Determination Theory to Satisfy Your Psychological Needs

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, psychology professors form the University of Rochester, developed the Self-Determination Theory in the mid-80s. It focuses on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and what influences them.

The theory states that we need to satisfy three main needs to enhance intrinsic motivation. They are:

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness

Autonomy

You need to believe and feel like you have choices in every situation. That’s because you could easily lose interest when you feel forced to do something without having a say.

So, you should be able to 

  • Have a say in things you do
  • Develop goals and see them as essential to your success
  • Choose to perform on your own without feeling pressured about results

If you’re an employer, you should allow your workers to have a say, frame goals that are vital to their success, and choose how they’ll perform.

Relatedness

You have to strengthen your connections with those around you and attribute your work to something greater than you. 

You should:

  • Discover how you perceive your work
  • Develop and strengthen your values while you work
  • Link your work to a higher purpose (corporate, moral, political, spiritual)

Employers should identify how workers feel about their jobs, encourage them to frame personal values and attach them to work, and allow them to attribute their work to a greater calling or purpose.

Competence

You need to have the right skills to perform specific tasks and be given the opportunity to show those skills.

To satisfy this need you must:

  • Identify and acquire the resources required to learn the skills
  • Center your goals on learning rather than the result
  • Track your growths and milestones rather than achievements

Employers must provide the resources and support for employees to learn new skills, focus on the learning process, and track small and measurable growths.

Volunteer

When you volunteer, you’re doing things to help the less fortunate. This activity triggers a feeling of fulfillment and makes you believe you’re doing something important. It also links you to some of your inner values such as humanitarianism, empathy, and kindness.

Do Something Even When the Urge isn’t There

Sometimes, you pick up intrinsic motivation in the middle of an activity. When starting is the challenge, you can create routines and stick to them. For example, you may not want to go to work some days even though you love your job. But getting to the office, you begin to enjoy work when you mix with your coworkers.

Use Positive Praise and Feedback

If you want to evoke intrinsic motivation in others, you can use positive praise. According to research, sincere positive feedback boosts intrinsic motivation because it satisfies the need for competence and promotes autonomy.

If you’re a manager, ensure you use empowering, specific positive feedback that will empower your team members and boost their morale. That said, don’t dish out praise will-nilly for less significant accomplishments so that workers don’t lose intrinsic motivation.

If you’re a worker, you can tell your manager how their positive feedback empowers you.

Wrapping Up

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence human behavior. Understanding how both motivations work can help you inspire yourself and others to improve learning and perform tasks in any situation.

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