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Intrinsic Motivation in Psychology: Definition, Examples & Factors

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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

When you do something because you enjoy it and not for an external reward or outcome, you're driven by intrinsic motivation. Learn about intrinsic motivation in psychology, discover how it differs from extrinsic motivation through some examples, and explore the factors that promote intrinsic motivation. Updated: 08/23/2021

Intrinsic Motivation

Imagine that you are conducting a research study on the motivation for high school students to participate in sports. You interview students in grades 9-12 and ask them what their motivation is for joining their school's sports team. Thirty percent of the students tell you that they joined to increase their popularity status, gain muscle and increase their chances for getting a college scholarship. The other 70% joined because they enjoy playing sports, they think sports are cool, or because they love the challenge they get from participating in sports. The reasons that the seventy percent gave are examples of intrinsic motivation.

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  • 0:01 Intrinsic Motivation
  • 0:38 Motivation Defined
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Motivation Defined

You've most likely heard of motivation. Motivation is what drives you to take action. It's your inspiration for doing something. Without motivation, you would accomplish very little. There are two types of motivation.

If you participate in school sports to boost your popularity status, gain muscle and increase your chances for getting a college scholarship as in the example above, you are extrinsically motivated to do so. Extrinsic motivation refers to performing an action or behavior in order to receive an external reward or outcome. When you are extrinsically motivated to do something, you aren't concerned with whether or not the action is enjoyable. You are most concerned with the outcomes associated with the action.

For example, those of us who are not morning people would not choose to wake up early on weekdays, but we know that if we do not wake up, then we will be late to work or school. Here we are extrinsically motivated to wake up early in order to receive the outcome of being on time.

When you do something to avoid punishment or a negative outcome, you are acting due to extrinsic motivation. For example, many high school students don't enjoy doing their chores. However, they do them in order to avoid being grounded by their parents, to receive allowances, or for some other outcome.

Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself. Whereas acting on extrinsic motivation is done for the sake of some external outcome, the inspiration for acting on intrinsic motivation can be found in the action itself.

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