Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Definition

Extrinsic MotivationExtrinsic motivation is the desire to do something because of the rewards and reinforcements it brings. In other words, one would probably not do the behavior if one didn’t get something, later, for doing it. Extrinsic motivation is often contrasted with intrinsic motivation, in which behavior occurs because the experience of doing the behavior is reward enough, independently of any separable consequences that may follow.

Extrinsic Motivation Background and History

Extrinsic motivation is consistent with the tenets of operant behaviorism, which say that behavior occurs because it has been reinforced—that is, a person has received some tangible and separable reward, consequence, or compensation for doing that behavior in the past, and expects the same to occur in the present. Experimental research commencing in the 1970s showed that inducing extrinsic motivation by rewarding a person for doing a previously enjoyable activity can undermine the person’s subsequent intrinsic motivation to do that activity, a finding that helped to weaken behaviorism’s influence within psychology. Although inducing extrinsic motivation via rewards can have some positive performance effects (e.g., evoking greater effort, a greater quantity of output, and more rote learning), there is a risk because it can also lead to reduced enjoyment, creativity, mental flexibility, and conceptual learning.

Four Types of Extrinsic Motivation

In contemporary psychology, extrinsic motivation is an important feature of E. L. Deci and R. M. Ryan’s self-determination theory. In the past 15 years, this theory has differentiated the extrinsic motivation concept, now specifying four different types of extrinsic motivation. External motivation exists when people act primarily to acquire anticipated rewards or to avoid anticipated punishments. Introjected motivation exists when people act to avoid guilt and self-recrimination. Identified motivation exists when people act to express a personally important value or belief. Integrated motivation exists when people act to express an important value or belief that is part of an elaborated network of principles and commitments. For example, people might recycle primarily because it is mandated by law (external motivation), because they would feel bad about themselves if they didn’t (introjected motivation), because they believe in recycling (identified motivation), or because recycling is an expression of a consolidated conservation ethic and worldview (integrated motivation).

Notably, all four of these motivations are considered extrinsic because, in each case, behavior is undertaken not for its own sake but rather as a means to some other end. Still, the four motivations are said to vary on their degree of internalization, that is, the extent to which the end has been incorporated into the self. External motivations are not at all internalized, introjected motivations are partially internalized, identified motivations are mostly internalized, and integrated motivations are completely internalized. Importantly, this conceptualization entails that some extrinsic motivations (i.e., identified and integrated motivations) can be undertaken with a sense of autonomy and self-determination despite their non-enjoyable status. In this way self-determination theory acknowledges that “not all extrinsic motivations are problematic” while also addressing the societal benefits that occur when people internalize non-enjoyable but essential behaviors (such as voting, taxpaying, diaper changing, etc.). In addition, this formulation allows the theory to address the social conditions that promote internalization—in particular, people are more likely to internalize extrinsic motivations when authorities are autonomy-supportive, that is, when they take subordinates’ perspectives, provide choice, and provide a meaningful rationale when choice has to be limited. Finally, this formulation allows the theory to address important personality-developmental issues concerning maturity, role acceptance, and wisdom.

In sum, extrinsic incentives can certainly be powerful motivators of behavior. However, they should be used judiciously, because there are numerous ways in which they can backfire. Ideally, social contexts will help people to internalize their extrinsic motivations, so that the necessities of life can be well handled.


  1. Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. R. (1994). Facilitating internalization: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62, 119-142.
  2. Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.
  3. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.