Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation:
What is intrinsic motivation and how can it be fostered?

Overview edit

Intrinsic motivation in action

What is intrinsic motivation? How can it be fostered? The aim of this book chapter is to use psychological theory and research knowledge to answer these questions, in order to help you to live - to lead - an effective and wholesome life.

Before delving into the depths of intrinsic motivation, especially before unpacking how it can be fostered into a life, it is important to consider motivation more generally.

To be motivated means to be moved to do something. To be inspired, energised, or activated. The phenomenon of motivation is multifaceted - shown through the fact that people have different amounts and types of motivation within the same context, and that, furthermore, amounts and types of motivation differ for one individual across the many different experiences his or her life is made up of (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

While both the amount and type of motivation significantly contribute to the outcome of a specific scenario, it is the type - the orientation and direction - of motivation that underlies the attitudes and goals which stimulate an organism to act. In other words, determining the types of motivation an organism embodies allows us to understand why specific behaviours are performed. This understanding allows individuals to consciously work on adapting and modifying their behaviour, which ultimately allows them to pursue their innermost desires (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

The pursuit of inner desires is, in brief, one way to define intrinsic motivation. This is opposed to extrinsic motivation, the type of motivation through which the individual performs an action because it leads to an outcome independent from - or external to - the self (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Before exploring intrinsic motivation any further, let's make sure the distinction between the different types of motivation is clear.


The continuum of motivation edit

The maze of life edit

Imagine life as an outdoor, grassy, nature-, wildlife-filled maze. Imagine that you have a choice between the two methods which allow you to complete that maze.

Method one

Make it through the maze as quickly, safely, and logically as possible. At the end, you may receive a tangible reward - say a trophy - maybe even some money - for being the fastest, the strongest, the best. Additionally… think of all the recognition and attention you might receive. Is this hard to accomplish? Maybe… it really depends… you may be in luck and notice that someone who has completed the maze before has tied a piece of ribbon to every branch that marks every turning point necessary to complete the maze in this way. Does this mean you get to work this maze out, exactly as it has been worked out before; without expending much time, thought, or energy? Score! Does method two even need to be considered? Best give it a chance…

Method two

Wander through every single path the maze has to offer. Absorb as much of the nature-filled beauty as possible. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings. The “taste” of freedom that stems from wandering. Won’t this journey take longer; and involve countless mistakes? No question. But imagine the feeling you will have once you have found your way out of the maze. All of the emotion-packed memories you picked up along the way - the good and the bad - they make all of the time, thought, and energy you have invested worth it. What’s more, you have been challenged by autonomous exploration, which has allowed you to realise what you are capable of. Such thorough exploration has also helped you to realise that there is “more” - a deeper meaning - to life.

Intrinsic & extrinsic motivation: Do you know the difference? edit

Now that you have read "The maze of life", see if you can correctly distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

1 Method one

Extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation

2 Method two

Extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation

Diagram demonstrating that motivation is an intricate continuum (Richard & Rochester, 2000)

Establish and maintain a healthy balance edit

While there are certain times it makes more sense to find the easiest, quickest, least involved method for a specific situation, task, or problem in life; it is unlikely that revolutionary, growthful effects are going to stem from adopting this method (pure extrinsic motivation) as one’s primary life strategy.[factual?] Without intrinsic motivation, opportunities for growth would be bypassed.

Having said this, it is also possible to have too much intrinsic motivation. The key to living an effective motivational life is establishing and maintaining the right balance between the different types of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The important thing to remember is that the amount of intrinsic motivation each individual needs is unique - it is dependent on his or her goals, aspirations, and desires, nature, and circumstances.

In actual fact it is not a matter of intrinsic versus extrinsic, despite the exaggerated contrast that the "maze of life" scenario suggests - it is more a matter of using a variety of types of motivation. As the figure (above) indicates, motivation is not a black and white phenomenon. Motivational sources are often complex and dynamic, filled with "grey areas", and involving aspects of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. According to Deci and Ryan's taxonomy of motivation (illustrated above), the types of motivation can be conceptualised along a spectrum from amotivation, four types of extrinsic motivation, to intrinsic motivation (Richard & Rochester, 2000).

This chapter focusses on the importance of intrinsic motivation, and how to foster a healthy amount into your life. See the motivation and emotion book chapter on extrinsic motivation to understand extrinsic motivation in a similar way. To develop your knowledge about the different types of motivation that exist within the continuum, see the motivation and emotion book chapter on self-determination theory from 2011.

Before unpacking how it can be fostered into a life, it is time to delve into those depths of intrinsic motivation - what it is, the history of its conception, the theories and research that support it as a concept, and what its benefits are.

What is intrinsic motivation? edit

Defining intrinsic motivation edit

To be motivated from within

Intrinsic motivation involves the inspiration, energy, and activation that propels an individual to make a change in behaviour, for the purpose of attaining internal satisfaction or fulfilment (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Within his work on operant conditioning, B. F. Skinner defined intrinsic motivation as “a task being interesting” - proposing that intrinsically motivated activities are ones for which the reward is in the activity itself (Skinner, 1953). Clark L. Hull, on the other hand, defined intrinsic motivation within his theory of learning as “the satisfaction gained from intrinsic engagement”. Hull’s proposition suggests that intrinsically motivated activities are ones that provide satisfaction of innate psychological needs (Hull, 1943).

Contemporary theory includes both Skinner and Hull’s theories of intrinsic motivation in its definition (Reeve, 2009). Thus, intrinsic motivation can be generated by an interest in or enjoyment of a task itself, just as it can be generated by the challenge a task holds; and equally, intrinsic motivation can generate interest in and enjoyment of a task, as well as the pursuit of a task that will provide challenge.

While this does in fact mean that intrinsic motivation may be linked to an external source (i.e. an external activity), the relationship between the individual and that external activity may none-the-less be inherent: if the result the behaviour produces has a directly internal effect on the individual (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

In summary, while the derivation of intrinsic motivation differs, and the meaning of its existence may vary; it is, exclusively, the form of motivation that exists within the individual.

History, theory, and research edit

Historical studies

Attention was first devoted to the phenomenon of intrinsic motivation in the 1970’s, after experimental studies of animal behaviour showed that playful, curious, exploratory behaviours are often present in the absence of external feedback (White, 1959). These findings revealed that there are conditions wherein behaviour is executed solely for the positive experiences that are associated with exercising and extending ones capacities (Ryan & Deci, 2000). From this revelation, it became apparent that an independent construct existed. Thus, intrinsic motivation.

Self-report inventories

The concept of intrinsic motivation has been supported by a number of self-report inventories that measure individual levels of interest and enjoyment of activities. One of the more successful and applicable measurement devices is the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Ryan, 1982) which consists of seven subscales that intend to assess participants' subjective experience related to a target activity in laboratory experiments. Although the overall questionnaire is called the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory, the interest/enjoyment subscale is considered the self-report measure of intrinsic motivation; making it the only subscale that specifically assesses intrinsic motivation.

The IMI has been used in a myriad of experiments (e.g., Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994; Ryan, 1982), effectually supporting the concept of intrinsic motivation. The IMI is highly modifiable, making it an advantageous research option. Additionally, strong support for the validity and reliability of the IMI has remained stable throughout the history of its existence (Tsigilis & Theodosiou, 2003). Caution does, however, need to be practiced surrounding the way results are interpreted in order to prevent redundancy of the measure.

Recent studies

Perhaps the strongest support for the concept of intrinsic motivation stems from a pool of interconnected empirical studies (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The basis of these studies has been centred on the hypothesis that people have ‘‘freedom of choice’’ in the way they behave. In other words, this hypothesis states that people can freely choose to behave (or against behaving) a certain way.

In these experimental studies, participants were asked to perform a specific task (Harackiewicz, 1979; Ryan, 1982), and were either informed that for performing the task they would (a) be given a reward, or (b) not receive anything in return. Interestingly, participants from each group performed the behaviour, despite the idea of receiving (or not receiving) a reward. The most prominent result, however, was that many of the participants - again regardless of whether they were in the “reward” group or not - would continue on with the task in their own time, after the experiment was over.

As no extrinsic source was present to prompt the execution of the behaviour second time around, it is assumed that these individuals’ actions were intrinsically motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The results of these research findings were pivotal, as while intrinsic motivation is not readily observable, this verified it as an independent phenomenon.

The flower symbolism associated with the cactus flower: "endurance, my heart burns with love" (Castelazo, 2009)

Benefits of intrinsic motivation edit

Whether for cognitive, emotional, physical, or social reasons, intrinsic motivation is integral for human growth and development. From the moment a human being is born, he or she is (ideally) active, exploratory, inquisitive, and playful. This readiness to learn and explore without external prompts is what allows an infant to develop his or her knowledge about, understanding of, and skills for life (Reeve, Deci, & Ryan, 2004).

Intrinsic motivation is a significant feature of human nature. It enables an individual to explore novelty, actively integrate discoveries, and apply what he or she has learnt in a creative manner. Without intrinsic motivation, individual levels of performance, persistence, and (arguably most importantly) enjoyment of and wellbeing across life are at risk (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

People who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in a task willingly. This means they learn more because of higher levels of attention and subsequent retainment. It also means they persist with activities because they aim to improve their skills, to in turn increase their capabilities (i.e. grow.) (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Thanks to these intrinsic motivation induced effects, more meaning is attached not only to the final result of a task, but also the course of task completion itself. This generates deeper levels of understanding, and greater levels of purpose and meaning of such activities. In other words: increased levels of understanding, purpose, and meaning are brought to life (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

“You bring purpose and meaning to life, you don’t ‘find’ it. And that meaning is in the journey, not the destination. It’s about enjoying the ride, not sitting through the ride, holding out for what is on the landing strip. The ride never ends. Besides: if it did end, and you did land on a strip… what would you find? That the meaning has passed?!”

~ Compilation of authors

The ultimate benefit: heightened functionality and wellbeing, boosted self-esteem, high levels of originality and creativity, capacity for mastery and goal-attainment, overall enjoyment of life. In summary, living life via intrinsic motivation is an equation for living a life of self-actualisation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Imagine what the world would be if it were filled with people who existed in this manner.

How can intrinsic motivation be fostered? edit

How can this world full of intrinsically motivated people be fostered?

Lifetime nurturance edit

It is important to remember that everybody is different, and that these differences need unconditional, lifelong nurturance

As established, infants are (more often than not) born intrinsically motivated. Ideally, intrinsic motivation would be nurtured in infancy, childhood, and adolescence, to then be maintained throughout adulthood and indeed the course of the entire lifetime. This is supported by a study which shows that the more parents nurture intrinsic motivation in the early stages of the lives of their children, the less likely intrinsic motivation is to decrease at a later age (Gottfried, Marcoulides, Gottfried, & Oliver, 2009).

The means to achieve this is an engaging environment and a caring atmosphere - as this combination allows children (and in fact all people, at any stage in life) to act on their natural desire to find out about "stuff". Whether an educational setting, the work place, or at home; a transparent environment in which a person has a clear understanding of what to expect eliminates "the unknown" and thereby reduces or even prevents problem behaviours such as frustration, avoidance of tasks, fear of failure, fear of success, and self-handicapping (to list a few). It also ensures that people are comfortable with their surroundings and not afraid to ask for help. Furthermore, it teaches people that "luck does not control you but you control your actions that lead to feeling lucky" (Lockwood, Jordan, & Kunda, 2002).

The quality of role models within such an environment also plays an important part in this equation. Conscious parenting and teaching with awareness of differing learning styles are vital – as it is these figures who guide children through the learning process. Surrounding oneself with a positive, supportive, fun social network or peer group also allows the individuals from within a group to build a community and feed off one another. This concept is known as motivational contagion (Lockwood, Jordan, & Kunda, 2002).

Despite the evidence that shows that humans enter this world intrinsically motivated, it would appear that these tendencies only occur under specific conditions. This in conjunction with the fact that various individual (e.g. illness, injury, personality) and environmental (e.g. social) factors hinder intrinsic motivation means that this ideal of lifelong intrinsic motivation nurturance is not fully realised (Ryan & Deci, 2000). For many of the individuals out there who have lost or damaged intrinsic motivation, it is up to them to create the life they desire, for themselves. It is unlikely that anybody else is going to do it for them. To be able to achieve this, it is important to understand how intrinsic motivation can be retrieved, and then preserved for life. Self-determination theory provides us with a gateway to this.

Self-determination theory edit

Venn diagram depicting the three self-determination theory components (Deci & Ryan, 2000)

Although the contemporary definition of intrinsic motivation does include both Skinner and Hull’s perspectives, self-determination theory (SDT - currently the main theory for fostering intrinsic motivation) is primarily centred on a derivation of Hull’s psychological need perspective (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

SDT is concerned with the degree to which an individual’s behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined… or in other words: intrinsically motivated. SDT was formally introduced and accepted as a sound empirical theory in the mid-1980s, and has seen a considerable increase in popularity and application to different areas in social psychology since the 2000s (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

The rise of SDT was largely thanks to the work of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan. Deci and Ryan's expansion on SDT led to the idea that the satisfaction of three psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness - underlies the degree to which intrinsic motivation tendencies manifest. These three psychological needs are said to be universal, innate; and essential for psychological health and well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Ryan and Deci have placed specific emphasis on these three psychological needs as their extensive research into intrinsic motivation has shown that the combination of autonomy, competence, and relatedness facilitates rather than undermines intrinsic motivation. The fact that intrinsic motivation only occurs in select circumstances means that it is catalysed - rather than "caused" - when individuals are in conditions facilitative to intrinsic motivation. Thus, in order to foster intrinsic motivation, it is imperative that conditions are facilitative rather than undermining (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Cognitive evaluation theory edit

Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET; SDT sub-theory) was presented by Deci and Ryan in 1985 to specify the factors that constitute the conditions that are facilitative toward intrinsic motivation. CET argues that interpersonal events and structures can enhance intrinsic motivation because they allow satisfaction of the basic psychological need for competence (as well as relatedness). For example, optimal challenges, positive performance feedback, and freedom from demeaning evaluations are all predicted to facilitate intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

CET further specifies that feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation in the above way, unless they are accompanied by a sense of autonomy. This means that people must not only experience perceived competence (or self-efficacy), they must also experience their behaviour to be autonomous (or self-determined) if intrinsic motivation is to be maintained or enhanced (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Unless attached to competence or autonomy; reward, incentives, and punishment will not aid fostering of intrinsic motivation; they will in fact dull thinking and block creativity - in effect undermining - and in fact harming - intrinsic motivation. The use of rewards, incentives, and punishment is not grounded by science. This is a finding that is ignored by not only individuals, but also the corporate world; despite countless studies over a 40 year span repeatedly replicating the same finding (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Intrinsic motivation does not necessarily mean that a person won't seek rewards. It simply signifies that such outside incentives are not really sufficient to keep an individual motivated. An intrinsically stimulated student, for instance, might want to obtain a good grade on a task, but if the task does not appeal to that student, the chance of a fantastic grade is simply not enough to keep that student engaged (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

People are doing routine, left brain, rule based tasks - things that modern day technology is able to do for us - within too many workplaces today. This way of thinking means that people are limited - they hit a wall and become "stuck", stagnant, and narrow-minded. To rectify this more of a balance is needed - greater emphasis needs to be put on right AND left brain work. To foster intrinsic motivation, people need to focus on what is good, important, interesting, and enjoyable to them (Pink, 2009).

"The unspoken factor is love. The reason I can work so hard at my writing is that it's not work for me."

~ John Irving

Some practical, self-help advice edit

Here are some everyday ideas of things that you can do yourself to foster intrinsic motivation into your own life.

First, take an inward look and become aware of what sort of motivation drives you through life. Unfortunately, the IMI questionnaire does not provide an overall, general life reading of intrinsic motivation - it can only be applied to a specific context. So here's a somewhat less scientific (but funǃ) quiz to get you going.

Let your passion guide you where you can find true fulfillment. If you are unsure as to what your passion is, take the time to find out. Work out what really matters to you. The Life Priorities Calculator by Paul Wilson (; 2005) is one good way to figure this out.

Break your old patterns.

Try something - anything - new or different. Go skydiving. Eat something you've never eaten before. Simply drive a different way to work (or wherever it is you happen to spend your waking life).

Do something for others, like donating blood, signing yourself up as an organ donor, or going out and doing some volunteer work.

Follow a blog like this one

Don't do anything you're "meant" to for one whole day. Maybe even one whole week! Spend the time doing things YOU want to do. After that day, or that week, integrate that style of living into your everyday life. Convention obviously needs to be followed to a certain extent - we have priorities and responsibilities - we need to make money. But life is fleeting. And living life in this way IS possible. So beyond that "certain extent", spend your time - your life - however YOU want.

Conclusion edit

The overview of this chapter asked two questions of psychological theory and research knowledge: What is intrinsic motivation? How can it be fostered? Hopefully, from this, you have been able to develop your knowledge on the importance of intrinsic motivation, and are now able to adapt this book chapter to come up with your own DIY action plan in order to foster into your life the amount of intrinsic motivation that is necessary for you to start, or continue on, leading an effective and wholesome life.

Take home edit

The phenomenon of motivation is multifaceted, and motivational sources are often complex and dynamic. To live the most rounded life, it is important to establish and maintain a healthy balance of the different types of motivation.

Intrinsic motivation has potentially profound benefits including life understanding, purpose, and meaning, heightened functionality and well-being, overall enjoyment of life, and self-actualisation.

Rewards, incentives, and punishment undermine and cause harm to intrinsic motivation. Despite contrary belief, these should be avoided when aiming to foster intrinsic motivation.

To foster intrinsic motivation, environments that facilitate competence, autonomy, and relatedness should be sought out and provided. Additionally, individuals should work to uncover what is truly important to them - as this will allow them to realise their passions; and ultimately live an effective, wholesome life.

“Love the life you live, live the life you love”

~ Bob Marley

See also edit

References edit

Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. (1994). Facilitating internalization: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62(1), 119-142. DOI:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1994.tb00797.x

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. DOI:10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01

Gillet, N., Vallerand, R. J., & Lafrenière, M. A. K. (2012). Intrinsic and extrinsic school motivation as a function of age: The mediating role of autonomy support. Social Psychology of Education, 15(1), 77-95. DOI: 10.1007/s11218-011-9170-2

Gottfried, A. E., Marcoulides, G. A., Gottfried, A. W., & Oliver, P. H. (2009). A latent curve model of parental motivational practices and developmental decline in math and science academic intrinsic motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 729-739. DOI:10.1037/a0015084

Harackiewicz, J. (1979). The effects of reward contingency and performance feedback on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(8), 1352-1363. DOI:10.1037/0022-3514.37.8.1352

Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior. New York, NY: Appleton–Century–Crofts.

Lockwood, P., Jordan, C. H., & Kunda, Z. (2002). Motivation by positive or negative role models: Regulatory focus determines who will best inspire us. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 854-864. DOI:10.1037/0022-3514.83.4.854

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Reeve, J., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Self-determination theory: A dialectical framework for understanding socio-cultural influences on student motivation. In D. M. McInerney & S. Van Etten (Eds.), Big theories revisited. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Press.

Richard, R. & Rochester, U. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intrapersonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(3), 450-461. DOI:10.1037/0022-3514.43.3.450

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. DOI:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. DOI:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Tsigilis, N., & Theodosiou, A. (2003). Temporal stability of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 97(1), 271-280. DOI:10.2466/pms.2003.97.1.271

White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66(5), 297-333. DOI:10.1037/h0040934

Wilson, P. (2005). The life priorities calculator: The calm way to get your life in order. Camberwell, VIC: The Penguin Group.

External links edit

"Well if you are (what you love) And you do (what you love) ... And if you share (with your heart) Yeah, you give (with your heart) ... What you share with the world is what it keeps of you" ... ~ Noah and the Whale Give a little love (Youtube) (4:36min) The snowball effect of one intrinsic act