The Science Behind our Methods

Motivation Psychology

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Why do we behave the way we do? Motivation is at the heart of our actions. It is an internal state, need, or desire that energizes and directs our behavior. Our innate personalities, past experiences, and contextual situations prompt the actions that we take. Observing a person-in-need prompts a motivation to give; a threat to our well-being prompts a motivation to avoid.

Needs as a motivator, may be biological (e.g., food for survival), psychological (e.g., need to feel competent), or social (e.g., need to feel powerful). Motives are generally classified as intrinsic or extrinsic, creating desires that manifest in goal-oriented behavior, physiological responses, and feeling states (emotion). In organizational sciences, content theory (needs-oriented) and process theory (cognition-oriented) are used to understand worker motivation.

Some studies suggest that incentives and rewards undermine intrinsic desires and negatively influence desired behavior (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

Extrinsic motivation is said to exist in social contexts external to the self that energize and direct behavior toward, or away from, an anticipated outcome. When extrinsically motivated, behavioral outcomes result from prodding, pressure, rewards, or threats of punishment, i.e., do this and you will get that. Employees may be driven to perform a task based on the promise of a bonus or recognition.

Psychology Terms

Individuals moved to do something for the sake of the activity itself are said to be intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation is prompted by feelings of interest, enjoyment, sense of accomplishment, or personal challenge (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Reeve, 2005). The more intrinsically motivated employees are, the greater their feelings of autonomy (Deci & Ryan). For example, a worker feeling a sense of organizational freedom may engage in research on their own for feelings of competence and joy (Gears, 2011).


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

Gears, D. A. (2011). Wiki behavior in the workplace: Emotional aspects of content development. Dissertation published in ProQuest/UMI Dissertations.

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Reiss, S. (2004). Multifaceted nature of intrinsic motivation: The theory of 16 basic desires. Review of General Psychology, 8(3), 179-183.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54- 67.



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