Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Main Differences and How to Find a Balance

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Main Differences and How to Find a Balance

6 mins readComment
Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Feb 28, 2024 17:49 IST

The primary difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that the former is driven by enjoyment or other internal factors, while external rewards or avoiding punishment push the latter. 

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

You practice art or leadership because of wholehearted enjoyment or passion. You remain self-motivated because it is fulfilling for your sake. 

Or, you may be driven by how superiors reward you or what others think of you, which makes you diligent at completing targets or putting up a social personality. 

What makes you happy from within without external intervention is intrinsic motivation. If your motivation is based on external rewards, that is extrinsic. 

Context of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Well-established in the field of psychology, these are two sides of the Self-Determination Theory that studies human motivation and personality. These two types of motivations have been studied at length and finally theorised by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in 1985 in their book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior

Intrinsic Motivation and Self Determination Theory in Human Behavior

According to Deci and Ryan, “The most basic distinction is between intrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome.

Knowing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important in academia and in understanding organisational behaviour. There are also quite a few overlaps to consider, as they are interconnected, and sometimes both are needed. Sometimes one downplays the other and that can change one’s behaviour in different contexts. We explain them below. 

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Comparison Table 

Compare some of the major differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in this table. 

Feature

Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation

Source of Motivation

Arises from internal desires and interests.

Originates from external factors such as rewards or recognition.

Drive

Individuals engage in activities for their own inherent satisfaction

External incentives or rewards prompt behaviour.

Examples

Pursuing hobbies, curiosity-driven learning, and exploration of personal interests.

Working for a bonus, studying to earn good grades, and completing tasks to avoid punishment.

Focus

Emphasis on personal growth, autonomy, and mastery.

Focus on attaining external rewards or avoiding negative consequences.

Sustainability

Tends to be more sustainable over time. 

May result in fluctuating motivation levels depending on the availability or magnitude of rewards.

Impact on Well-being

Associated with higher levels of satisfaction, engagement, and well-being.

May lead to dependency on external validation and potentially diminish intrinsic satisfaction over time.

Relationship with Goals

Drives behaviour aligned with personal values and interests, fostering a sense of purpose.

Can influence behaviour towards achieving externally-imposed goals or targets.

Autonomy

Allows individuals to exercise autonomy and self-determination in pursuing activities.

May result in a loss of autonomy as external factors guide behaviour.

Long-term Engagement

Encourages sustained engagement and commitment due to inherent enjoyment and interest.

Mostly leads to short-term compliance, but may not foster long-term commitment or passion.

Explanation of Intrinsic Motivation 

Intrinsic motivation is the drive to do something that gives inner satisfaction. There are no external factors like incentives when it comes to it. It leads to accomplishment, enjoyment, and a valuable purpose. 

Key Characteristics of Intrinsic Motivation

  • The focus is on the activity itself. You engage in an activity because you find it interesting, challenging, or enjoyable, not for any external outcome or reward.
  • There is an internal fulfilment. The act itself brings you a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, or growth.

Factors that Enhance Intrinsic Motivation

  • Autonomy: When individuals have control over their actions and choices, they feel empowered and more invested in the activity.
  • Competence: Having opportunities to develop skills and experience progress fosters a sense of accomplishment and increases confidence.
  • Relatedness: Feeling connected to a larger purpose, community, or cause adds meaning and significance to the activity.
  • Novelty and Challenge: Engaging in new and challenging tasks can spark curiosity, stimulate creative thinking, and sustain interest.
  • Feedback: Receiving specific, positive feedback on progress and effort reinforces engagement and fosters a growth mindset.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation 

  • It could be as simple as an activity as solving a puzzle. The challenges and solving them could be as satisfying. There are necessarily no external incentives here. 
  • Learning a language due to its process and not for immediate reward. 
  • Exercising regularly because it makes you feel healthy. 
  • Painting because you enjoy the creative process, not to sell the artwork.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

  • There is increased enjoyment and engagement. When intrinsically motivated, you're more likely to find activities enjoyable and stick with them over time.
  • Any activity you perform because you like it will result in improved performance. You're more likely to put in effort and strive for excellence when you are internally driven.
  • Intrinsic motivation leads to greater creativity and innovation. When focused on the internal joy of an activity, you're more open to exploring, experimenting, and coming up with creative solutions.

Factors That Can Hinder Intrinsic Motivation

  • Overly controlling or micromanaging environments: These can stifle autonomy and creativity.
  • Excessive pressure to succeed: Focusing solely on goals and outcomes can detract from the enjoyment of the process.
  • Constant negative feedback or criticism: This can create a sense of helplessness and discourage further effort.
  • Unrealistic expectations: When expectations are too high or don't match the individual's abilities, it can lead to frustration and diminished motivation.

Explanation of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is when you're driven to perform a task or engage in an activity because you want to gain a tangible or intangible reward, or you want to avoid a punishment.

Types of Extrinsic Motivation

Tangible Rewards 

These are physical rewards like:

  • Money (salary, bonus)
  • Prizes or trophies
  • Gifts or treats

Intangible Rewards 

These involve social or psychological rewards, like:

  • Praise or recognition
  • Positive feedback
  • Social status

Avoidance of Punishment 

You may do something to avoid a negative consequence, like:

  • Doing chores to avoid being grounded
  • Studying to avoid getting a bad grade
  • Working to avoid being fired

Factors that Influence Extrinsic Motivation Positively and Negatively

  • Type and value of the reward: The more desirable and relevant the reward is to the individual, the stronger the extrinsic motivation.
  • Accessibility and immediacy of the reward: Receiving rewards promptly and for achievable goals can boost motivation.
  • Individual's values and personality: Individuals with strong intrinsic motivations may be less susceptible to extrinsic rewards.
  • Overreliance on extrinsic motivation: When solely focused on extrinsic rewards, the internal joy of the activity itself might diminish.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

  • Working hard at your job to receive a promotion or a raise.
  • Competing in a sports tournament to win a trophy.
  • Completing chores to get an allowance.
  • Exercising to lose weight or improve your appearance.

Finding a Balance Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Organisations

Organisations can create a balanced environment using both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in these ways.  

  • Offering opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose: Giving employees control, providing chances to learn and grow, and connecting their work to a larger goal can enhance intrinsic motivation. But this would depend largely on the management style, which needs to be chosen carefully. 
  • Implementing meaningful rewards: Using extrinsic motivators strategically, like recognition for effort and achievement, alongside intrinsic factors can promote a positive and sustainable work environment. Read up on job enrichment, as well.
  • Fostering a culture of growth and development: Providing opportunities for learning and skill development can enhance intrinsic motivation and increase employee satisfaction and long-term value. 

Motivated to Learn Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation In-Depth?

If you want to really want to focus on learning the theory behind intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, Professor Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester offers a course on Coursera - Introduction to Self-Determination Theory: An approach to motivation, development and wellness

Course benefits for those who will enjoy:

  • Learn how to apply self-determination theory in various social contexts. It could be in education, work, sport, healthcare, and/or psychotherapy settings. 
  • Gain insights into motivation, development, and wellness - among the most talked about topics in psychology today. It can open up new career opportunities in psychology and related fields.
  • The course includes quizzes to assess understanding and reinforce key concepts.
About the Author
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Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio