Intrinsic vs.


Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

“Intrinsic motivation is associated with curiosity, exploration, spontaneity, and interest…extrinsic motivation is associated with undertaken to attain an end state that is separate from the actual behavior…determined by some external contengency such as good marks or the avoidance of negative consequences.” (Muller, 2004) Adults are motivated by some external factorcs, such as promotions, salaries, and pressure from authority figures. However, internal motivators that help adults solve problems in their life, such as increased job satisfaction, self-esteem, quality of life, and the opportunity to self-actualize, tend to be more powerful motivators (Knowles, 2005).

Simons (2004) describes two different motivational patterns and learning styles. He states, “Students can have both orientations, but only one can be prevalent when achieving.”

  • Task/Mastery or Learning Goals
    When develop a skill or acquiring knowledge following task or learning goals, a student will take on a challenging task, even if there is a risk of making a mistake. They learn from these mistakes, enriching their learning process.
  • Ego or Performance Goals
    The main concern when working on tasks focusing with ego or performance goals is how a student’s performance will be viewed relative to others. They are concerned about looking incompetent or judged in a negative way by others, often avoiding the task all together.

Intrinsic Motivation
According to Ryan and Deci (2000), learners who are intrinsically motivated, therefore being interested leaners:

  • are more content in their learning processes.
  • acquire knowledge in a more differentiated and more coherent form.
  • show a long-term retention of what was learned.
  • apply their knowledge more often than others.
  • show higher academic achievement.
  • perceive themselves as more competent.

Simons enhances Deci and Ryan’s studies by listing the following characteristics of internally regulated learners:

  • emphasize personal development or growth.
  • are more task oriented.
  • are more excited about the course.
  • use more deep level learning strategies.
  • persist more and perform better.
  • have more interests.
  • are more confident.
  • persist longer.
  • receive better exam scores.

“Intemalisation involves an individual's transformation of regulatory processes that are extemal to the self into intemal regulatory processes. These now internalised values and regulations are integrated into and become part of one's self” (Muller). However, a person must have their basic psychological needs met before self-determined motivation and the development and maintenance of personal interest can take place (Muller).

Muller provides reasons a student will perform an activiey for its own sake, stating that this is intrinsic. Motivation in this case:

  • derives from activity level, interest, and curiosity.
  • taps into the natural human tendency to pursue interests and exercise capabilities.
  • doesn’t require incentives because the process itself is inherently motivating.
  • students often experience “flow”, defined as a feeling of enjoyment that occurs when they have developed a sense of mastery and are concentrating intensely on the task at hand.

Back to Top

Extrinsic Motivation
Simons lists the following characteristics of exernally regulated learners:

  • are more approach and avoidance ego-oriented.
  • study less regularly.
  • show less excitement.
  • persist less.
  • use more surface level strategies.
  • have lower exam results.
  • are less interested in the course.

If a student is presented with a task and provided external incentives and reinforcements, they generally may not develop an intrinsic motivation to learn. In addition, if a student is provided external incentives to perform a task and they would naturally find motivating, their desire to perform the tasks can actually decrease (Muller). Generally, when students focus their attention on external incentives, the rewards become the end themselves, rather than serving their proper function, to provide feedback on progress the students are making.

Back to Top


Knowles, Malcom S., Holton, Elwood F. III, & Swanson, Richard A. (2005). The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development (6 th ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevlier

Müller, Florian H., Louw, Johann. (2004). Learning environment, motivation and interest: Perspectives on self-determination theory. South African Journal of Psychology, 34, 2, 169-190.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.

Simmons, Joke, Dewitte, Siegfried, & Lens, Willy (2004). The Role of Different Types of Instrumentality in Motivation, Study Strategies, and Performance: Know Why You Learn, So You’ll Know What You Learn! British Journal of Educational Psychology. 74, 343-360.

Back to Top

Additional Resources

Bennett, Roger, Barkensjo, ANNA. (2005). Characteristics of Academically Excellent Business Studies Students in a Post-1992 University. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 10, 1, 5-26

Deci, E.L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R.M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examiningcthe effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–688.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256–273.

Eccles, J.S., & Wigfield, A. (1995). In the mind of the actor: The structure of students’ achievement task values and expectancy-related beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 215–225.

Elliot, A.J., McGregor, H.A., & Gable, S.L. (1999). Achievement goals, study strategies, and exam performance: A mediational analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 549–563.

Elliot, A.J., & Church, M.A. (1997). A hierarchical model of approach and avoidance achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 218–232.

Elliot, A.J., & Harackiewicz, J.M. (1996). Goal setting, achievement orientation and intrinsic motivation: A mediational analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 968–980.

Fairchild, Amanda J., Horst, S. Jeanne, Finney, Sara J., Barron, Kenneth E., (2005). Evaluating existing and new validity evidence for the Academic Motivation Scale. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30, 3, 331-358

Harackiewicz, J. M., Barron, K., & Elliot, A.J. (1998). Rethinking achievement goals: When are they adaptive for college students and why? Educational Psychologist, 33, 1–21.

Hayamizu, T. (1997). Between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Examination of reasons for academic study based on the theory of internalization. Japanese Psychology Research, 39, 98–108.

Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.

Heyman, G.D., & Dweck, C.S. (1992). Achievement goals and intrinsic motivation: Their relation and their role in adaptive motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 16, 231–247.

Higgins & A.W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Motivational science: Social and personality perspectives. Key reading in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis.

Lens, W. (2001). How to combine intrinsic task-motivation with the motivational effects of the instrumentality of present tasks for future goals. In A. Efklides, J. Kuhl & R.M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Trends and prospects in motivation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Lens, W., & Rand, P. (1997). Combining intrinsic goal orientation with professional instrumentality/utility in student motivation. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 28, 103–123.

Malmberg, Lars-Erik (2005). Goal-orientation and teacher motivation among teacher applicants and student teachers. Teaching & Teacher Education, 22, 1, 58-76.

McClelland, D. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

Nolen, S.B., & Haladyna, T.M. (1990). Personal and environmental influences on students’ beliefs about effective study strategies. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 15, 116–130.

Ngaosuvan, Leonard, Mäntylä, Timo (2005). Rewarded remembering: Dissociations between self-rated motivation and memory performance. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 46, 4, 323-330.

Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Academic motivation of adolescents. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Pintrich, P.R., & De Groot, E.V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33–40.

Ryan, R.M., & Connell, J.P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalisation: Examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 749–761.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.

Simons, J., Dewitte, S., & Lens, W. (2000). Wanting to have versus wanting to be: The effect of perceived instrumentality on goal orientation. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 335–351.

Skaalvik, E.M. (1997). Self-enhancing and self-defeating ego orientation: Relations with task and avoidance orientation, achievement, self-perceptions, and anxiety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 71–81.

Skaalvik, E.M., Vala´s, H., & Sletta, O. (1994). Task involvement and ego involvement: Relations with academic achievement, academic self-concept and self-esteem. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 38, 231–243.

Vallerand, R.J., & Bissonnette, R. (1992). Intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivational styles as predictors of behavior: A prospective study. Journal of Personality, 60, 599–620.

Walsh, Kieran (2005). What's your motivation? British Medical Journal, 330, 7506, 1492-1492.

Wolters , C.A. (1998). Self-regulated learning and college students’ regulation of motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 224–235.

Yamauchi, H., & Tanaka, K. (1998). Relations of autonomy, self-referenced beliefs and selfregulated learning among Japanese children. Psychological Reports, 82, 803–816.

Zaleski, Z. (Ed.) (1994). Psychology of future orientation. Lublin, Poland: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL.

Back to Top


Kathleen O'Connell
December 2005
University of Maryland, Baltimore County