Intrinsic Motivation

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

MotivationConcept description

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behavior in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments.

Intrinsic motivation and rewards

That isn’t to say that intrinsically motivated behaviors are without their own rewards. Instead, these rewards involve creating positive emotions within the individual. Activities can generate such feelings when they give people a sense of meaning (like participating in volunteer or church events), a sense of progress (seeing that your work is accomplishing something positive), or competence (learning something new or becoming more skilled at a task).

Researchers have discovered that offering external rewards or reinforcements for an already internally rewarding activity can actually make the activity less intrinsically rewarding, a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect. Why?

“A person’s intrinsic enjoyment of an activity provides sufficient justification for their behavior,” explains author Richard A Griggs in his text Psychology: A Concise Introduction. “With the addition of extrinsic reinforcement, the person may perceive the task as overjustified and then attempt to understand their true motivation (extrinsic versus intrinsic) for engaging in the activity.”

Experts also suggest that people are more creative when they are intrinsically motivated. In work settings, productivity can be increased by using extrinsic rewards such as bonuses, but the actual quality of the work performed is influenced by intrinsic factors. If you are doing something that you find rewarding, interesting, and challenging, you are more likely to come up with novel ideas and creative solutions.

Malone and Lepper (Malone, T. W. & Lepper, M. R. 1987. Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning, in R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr Eds., Aptitude, learning, and instruction: III. Conative and affective process analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.) define activities as intrinsically motivating if “people engage in it for its own sake, rather than in order to receive some external reward or avoid some external punishment. We use the words fun, interesting, captivating, enjoyable, and intrinsically motivating all more or less interchangeably to describe such activities.”

The factors that they identify as increasing intrinsic motivation are:

  • Challenge: People are more motivated when they pursue goals that have personal meaning, that relate to their self-esteem, when performance feedback is available, and when attaining the goal is possible but not necessarily certain.
  • Curiosity: Internal motivation is increased when something in the physical environment grabs the individual’s attention (sensory curiosity) and when something about the activity stimulates the person to want to learn more (cognitive curiosity).
  • Control: People want control over themselves and their environments and want to determine what they pursue.
  • Cooperation and competition: Intrinsic motivation can be increased in situations where people gain satisfaction from helping others and also in cases where they are able to compare their own performance favorably to that of others.
  • Recognition: People enjoy having their accomplishment recognized by others, which can increase internal motivation.

Source: Excerpted from Cherry, K. A. (2015). What is Intrinsic Motivation, at, accessed 10 January 2016.

Atlas topic, subject and course

Recognizing Values (core topic) in Leadership Skills and Atlas109.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 10 January 2016.

Image: F3Y, at, accessed 31 December 2015.