Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

The  hierarchical  model  of  intrinsic  and  extrinsic motivation  (HMIEM)  is  a  comprehensive  theory that  seeks  to  describe  human  motivation  and  its determinants and outcomes from a multilevel perspective. Its major premise is that in order to more completely  understand  the  motivation  of  sport participants (e.g., athletes, coaches, referees, fans), one needs to consider their motivation in various contexts and at various levels of generality. In line with self-determination theory (SDT), the HMIEM posits the existence of three types of motivational constructs:  intrinsic  motivation  (behaving  out  of pleasure  and  free  choice),  extrinsic  motivation (behaving  to  obtain  rewards  or  avoid  punishments),  and  amotivation  (the  relative  absence  of motivation).  These  motivational  constructs  are organized  both  vertically  and  horizontally  within the  HMIEM.  This  structural  arrangement  serves to  integrate  knowledge  on  the  personality  (vertical axis) and social psychological (horizontal axis) determinants of motivation.

First,  the  vertical  organization  of  elements in  the  HMIEM  specifies  that  the  three  types  of motivation  (intrinsic,  extrinsic,  and  amotivation) exist at three different levels of generality: global, contextual, and situational. The most stable level is situated on top (the global level) and the most ephemeral  (the  situational  level)  at  the  bottom. The  global  level  corresponds  to  a  person’s  usual way  of  functioning  at  the  personality  level  (e.g., Susan  is  typically  intrinsically  motivated).  The next  level  is  the  contextual  level.  It  corresponds to  one’s  usual  motivation  in  a  particular  context such as sports, education, leisure, or interpersonal relationships.  This  type  of  motivational  orientation  is  moderately  stable  and  can  vary  from  one context  to  another.  For  instance,  Susan  may  be intrinsically  motivated  to  play  sports  but  extrinsically  motivated  to  go  to  school.  Finally,  the situational level is the most specific and refers to one’s  motivational  state  in  the  present  moment, the here and now. For instance, you may observe that Susan is intrinsically motivated to play tennis right now.

Top-Down and Bottom-Up Effects

Importantly, the HMIEM postulates that relationships exist between the levels of the hierarchy such that the type of motivation one has at a given level influences his or her motivation at the other levels. The  relationships  between  motivation  at  the  different  levels  of  the  hierarchy  take  place  through the  top-down  and  bottom-up  effects.  Top-down effects refer to the influence of higher levels in the hierarchy  upon  lower  levels.  Specifically,  global motivation influences both contextual motivation and  situational  motivation  whereas  contextual motivation  influences  only  situational  motivation. Each level has the strongest influence on the level immediately below (i.e., the proximity principle). In other words, global motivation will have a  stronger  influence  on  contextual  motivation than  on  situational  motivation.  For  example,  if Susan  has  a  high  global  intrinsic  motivation,  all else being equal, she is also likely to have a high level of intrinsic motivation at the contextual level (next  level  below)  such  as  in  sports.  Research supports  this  top-down  hypothesis  showing  that the  more  athletes  have  a  high  level  of  contextual intrinsic motivation for sports the more they have a high level of situational intrinsic motivation during a game. Similar findings have been obtained in physical education (PE) settings.

Second,  bottom-up  effects  represent  the  influence of lower levels in the hierarchy upon higher levels.  This  effect  explains  how  repeated  motivational changes at a given level instigate changes in motivation at the next higher level. For example, if Susan repeatedly experiences increases in intrinsic motivation  (e.g.,  during  many  tournaments),  she may become more prone to adopt an intrinsically motivated orientation in the context of sports. In turn,  this  increase  in  intrinsic  motivation  at  the contextual level in sports may also lead to increases in intrinsic motivation at the personality level (i.e., the  global  level).  The  proximity  principle  applies here as well. Thus, situational motivation will have a stronger effect on contextual motivation than it will  on  global  motivation.  Longitudinal  research provides support for these hypotheses.

Social Psychological Processes

The HMIEM also describes a horizontal organization of elements that describe the nature of the social psychological  processes  through  which  changes in  motivation  take  place  and  lead  to  outcomes. The  same  sequence  takes  place  at  all  three  levels of  the  hierarchy:  “Social  Factors→Psychological Needs→Motivation→Outcomes.”  At  the  beginning  of  the  sequence,  it  is  postulated  that  motivation  is  determined  first  and  foremost  by  social factors.  For  instance,  global  social  factors  are  so pervasive that they are present in most areas of a person’s life. One example is parenting, which represents  a  rather  continuous  influence  on  children because it spans many life contexts and situations. The way parents raise their children determines, in part,  whether  the  children  will  adopt  an  intrinsic or  extrinsic  way  of  interacting  with  the  environment  (i.e.,  a  global  motivation).  Second,  contextual social factors are recurrent factors but only in a specific context such as in basketball (i.e., a basketball coach) or in school (i.e., a teacher). Third, situational  social  factors  are  present  at  a  single point  in  time.  For  example,  winning  a  basketball game on a Sunday afternoon may have an impact on  one’s  situational  motivation  to  join  another scrimmage match when the opportunity comes up. Importantly, global social factors determine global motivation,  contextual  factors  determine  contextual motivation, and situational factors determine situational motivation.

Next, the HMIEM postulates that the influence of  social  factors  on  motivation  occurs  through basic  psychological  need  satisfaction.  Need  satisfaction  acts  as  a  mediator  between  social  factors and  motivation  at  every  level  of  generality  in  the model.  The  more  an  individual’s  psychological needs are met in general, in a given context or in a specific situation, the more he or she will engage in activities in an intrinsic way at the global, contextual, or situational level. For example, the more athletes  perceive  their  coach  as  supporting  their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, the more they will develop an intrinsic motivation for  sports.  Much  empirical  support  exists  for  the role of need satisfaction as mediators of the effects of  social  factors  (e.g.,  the  coach’s  behavior)  on athletes’  motivation.  Of  additional  importance  is that  motivation  in  different  contexts  can  interact in  different  ways.  For  instance,  motivation  in  a given context (e.g., education) may add to, or even conflict with, motivation in another context (e.g., sport). In other words, there might be compensation  or  additive  effects  among  different  contexts. Research  in  sport  and  education  empirically  supports the presence of such effects.

Finally,  the  social  psychological  process  ends with  the  effects  of  motivation  on  outcomes  of three  types:  affective,  cognitive,  and  behavioral. Such  effects  take  place  at  every  level  of  the  hierarchy and are specific to the level of generality. In other  words,  global  motivation  produces  global outcomes,  contextual  motivation  produces  contextual  outcomes,  and  situational  motivation produces   situational   outcomes.   For   example, Susan may generally experience positive emotions, enhanced  concentration,  and  better  performance when  playing  sports  because  she  has  an  intrinsic motivation  in  this  context.  However,  she  may experience  less  desirable  consequences  such  as negative  emotions,  decreased  concentration,  and poorer  performance  in  another  context  (e.g.,  at school)  because  she  is  more  extrinsically  motivated  in  this  context.  At  all  levels  of  generality, intrinsic motivation leads to the most positive outcomes whereas extrinsic motivation produces the least positive consequences. Once again, research supports these postulates.

In  sum,  the  HMIEM  offers  a  comprehensive explanation  of  athletes’,  coaches’,  referees’,  andfans’ motivation from multilevel, personality, and social psychological perspective.


  1. Blanchard, C. M., Mask, L., Vallerand, R. J., de la Sablonnière, R., & Provencher, P. (2007). Reciprocal relationships between contextual and situational motivation in a sport setting. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8, 854–873.
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