Overjustification Effect: Definition & Examples

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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.

The overjustification effect occurs when an extrinsic reward is introduced after a behavior that a person is already intrinsically motivated to perform. Learn more about the overjustification effect from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Overjustification Effect

Suppose that you are a student in a graduate psychology program. You really enjoy helping people and find your work very satisfying. In your final year of study, you get an unpaid internship at a local counseling center. Even though you do not receive any pay, you feel motivated every day to do your best because you love your job and you really get to help people.

Upon graduation, the local counseling center that you've been interning at offers you a paid job with a hefty salary. After working there a few weeks, you are no longer coming to your job because you enjoy helping people; rather, you view your job as 'work'. Your work at the counseling center is a means to an end - namely a paycheck. This is an example of overjustification effect.

We can look at this example to explain the overjustification effect. When you were not getting paid for your internship, you were intrinsically motivated to do your job. In other words, you worked at the counseling center because you enjoyed it. When we do something because we enjoy it and not for some external reward, we are intrinsically motivated.

Once your unpaid internship became a paid job, you became extrinsically motivated. You started doing your job because of the salary that you received. When we do something because we expect some external reward, such as money or praise, we are extrinsically motivated.

Overjustification effect occurs when the introduction of some extrinsic reward leads to a reduction in a person's intrinsic motivation. In the example earlier, you were originally intrinsically motivated. However, once you were paid a salary (an extrinsic reward), your intrinsic motivation started to decline. Your job performance became motivated by your salary and not your enjoyment of helping others.

Once the overjustification effect occurs, it's not possible to return back to intrinsic motivation. If your job were to stop paying your salary, you would not go back to working just because you enjoy it. Instead, your job performance would decline or you would quit and try to find a new job where you were paid a salary.

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