The Difference Between Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation: Why It Matters

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The Difference Between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation & Why It Matters

The Internal & External Forces of Motivation

The Nature of Motivation

Motivation is the force that drives us to pursue our goals and achieve our desired outcomes. However, not all motivation is the same. There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Understanding the difference between them and how they affect our behavior and performance is crucial for personal and professional development.

Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is based on external factors, such as rewards and punishments. When we are extrinsically motivated, we do something because we want to gain something or avoid something. For example, we may work hard to get a bonus, a promotion, or a praise from our boss or peers. Or we may avoid making mistakes to prevent being fired, demoted, or criticized.

Intrinsic motivation is based on internal factors, such as interest, enjoyment, and satisfaction. When we are intrinsically motivated, we do something because we find it meaningful, challenging, or fun. For example, we may work hard because we love what we do, we want to improve ourselves, or we want to make a positive impact. Or we may avoid making mistakes because we care about the quality of our work and the results of our actions.

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can have positive and negative effects on our behavior and performance. Extrinsic motivation can provide us with incentives to work harder, faster, or better. It can also help us overcome obstacles, cope with boredom, or persist in difficult tasks. However, extrinsic motivation can also undermine our intrinsic motivation, reduce our creativity, or increase our stress. For example, if we work only for money or recognition, we may lose interest in our work or feel pressured to meet external expectations.

Intrinsic motivation can provide us with enjoyment, fulfillment, and growth. It can also enhance our creativity, autonomy, and self-esteem. However, intrinsic motivation can also be influenced by external factors, such as feedback, social norms, or competition. For example, if we receive negative feedback or compare ourselves with others, we may lose confidence in our abilities or feel discouraged.

Scenario: A software company that develops mobile games.

Alice and Bob are two software engineers who work for a software company that develops mobile games. They are both assigned to work on a new game project that is expected to be launched in six months. The project manager, Carol, has set some goals and milestones for the project and has also announced some rewards and penalties for the team members.

Alice is extrinsically motivated to work on the project. She wants to earn the bonus that Carol has promised for completing the project on time and within the budget. She also wants to avoid the penalty that Carol has threatened for missing the deadlines or delivering poor quality work. Alice works hard to meet the external expectations and standards that Carol has set for her. She does not care much about the game itself or how it will benefit the users. She is mainly focused on the outcome and the reward.

Bob is intrinsically motivated to work on the project. He loves developing games and enjoys the challenge and creativity involved in the process. He wants to make a game that he and the users will find fun and engaging. He works hard to improve his skills and learn new technologies that will help him create a better game. He does not care much about the bonus or the penalty that Carol has offered or imposed. He is mainly focused on the task and the satisfaction.

Alice and Bob have different experiences and outcomes as a result of their different types of motivation. Alice feels stressed and anxious as she tries to meet the deadlines and avoid the mistakes. She does not find her work enjoyable or meaningful. She often cuts corners or compromises on quality to finish her tasks faster. She does not collaborate well with her teammates or seek feedback from them. She is afraid of losing her bonus or facing Carol’s wrath.

Bob feels excited and curious as he tries to make the best game possible. He finds his work rewarding and fulfilling. He often goes beyond his assigned tasks and adds extra features or improvements to his game. He collaborates well with his teammates and seeks feedback from them. He is confident in his abilities and proud of his work.

The difference between Alice’s and Bob’s motivation affects not only their performance but also their retention and loyalty to the company. Alice is likely to leave the company as soon as she finds another job that offers a higher bonus or a lower penalty. She does not feel attached or committed to the company or the project. Bob is likely to stay with the company as long as he finds his work interesting and challenging. He feels connected and dedicated to the company and the project.

How to Balance Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Carol, the project manager, used a common but flawed motivation strategy for her team members: offering rewards and penalties based on their performance. This strategy was based on the assumption that extrinsic motivation is sufficient and effective to motivate employees. However, as the scenario showed, this strategy had different and undesirable effects on Alice and Bob, who had different types of motivation.

Alice, who was extrinsically motivated, worked hard to earn the bonus and avoid the penalty, but she did not enjoy or care about her work. She was stressed, anxious, and unhappy. She compromised on quality, creativity, and collaboration. She was not loyal or committed to the company or the project.

Bob, who was intrinsically motivated, worked hard because he loved his work and wanted to make a great game. He was excited, curious, and fulfilled. He improved his skills, creativity, and collaboration. He was loyal and committed to the company and the project.

However, Bob’s intrinsic motivation could also be affected by Carol’s extrinsic motivation strategy. If Carol gave him too much or too little feedback, praise, or recognition, he might feel discouraged, pressured, or bored. If Carol made him compete with his teammates or compare himself with others, he might feel insecure, jealous, or resentful.

Therefore, Carol should have balanced extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for her team members and used them appropriately in different situations. Here are some suggestions for how she could have done that:

  • For Alice, Carol should have tried to increase her intrinsic motivation by making her work more interesting, meaningful, and challenging. She could have given her more autonomy, responsibility, and feedback. She could have explained how her work contributes to the company’s vision and mission and how it benefits the users. She could have encouraged her to learn new skills and technologies that would help her create a better game.
  • For Bob, Carol should have tried to maintain his intrinsic motivation by making his work more enjoyable, fulfilling, and rewarding. She could have given him more recognition, appreciation, and support. She could have celebrated his achievements and successes. She could have provided him with opportunities for growth and development.
  • For both Alice and Bob, Carol should have used extrinsic motivation sparingly and wisely. She could have offered them fair and competitive compensation that reflects their skills and performance. She could have given them occasional bonuses or incentives that are unexpected and contingent on specific goals or milestones. She could have avoided using threats or punishments that would undermine their motivation or trust.

By balancing extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for her team members, Carol could have improved their performance and satisfaction in the project. She could have also enhanced their retention and loyalty to the company.

The Difficulty Balancing Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation in Different Fields

As we have seen, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are both important and useful for different situations and goals. However, finding the right balance between them is not easy. It requires a deep understanding of the individual and the context, as well as a flexible and adaptive approach to motivation. This is especially true for managers, educators, coaches, or any other professionals who depend on the performance of others.

Different fields may have different challenges and opportunities for balancing extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. For example:

  • Managers need to motivate their employees to perform well in their tasks and contribute to the organizational objectives. They may use extrinsic motivation such as pay, benefits, recognition, or promotion to reward or incentivize their employees. However, they also need to foster intrinsic motivation such as interest, enjoyment, or satisfaction in their employees. They may do this by providing autonomy, feedback, support, or challenge to their employees. The difficulty for managers is to align the individual and organizational goals and values, as well as to tailor the motivation strategy to the individual needs and preferences of each employee.
  • Educators need to motivate their students to learn and achieve in their academic subjects. They may use extrinsic motivation such as grades, rewards, or praise to motivate or reinforce their students. However, they also need to cultivate intrinsic motivation such as curiosity, passion, or mastery in their students. They may do this by providing choice, relevance, collaboration, or fun to their students. The difficulty for educators is to balance the standards and expectations of the curriculum and assessment with the interests and abilities of each student.
  • Coaches need to motivate their athletes to train and compete in their sports. They may use extrinsic motivation such as trophies, medals, or fame to motivate or inspire their athletes. However, they also need to nurture intrinsic motivation such as enjoyment, fulfillment, or growth in their athletes. They may do this by providing autonomy, feedback, support, or challenge to their athletes. The difficulty for coaches is to balance the demands and pressures of the competition with the well-being and development of each athlete.

These are just some examples of how different fields may face different difficulties in balancing extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for this problem. Each field may require a different mix of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation depending on the situation and the goal. The key is to understand the individual and the context and to use both types of motivation wisely and effectively.


As depicted in the scenario, it is important to balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and use them wisely in different situations. Extrinsic motivation can be useful when we need to perform routine or unpleasant tasks that are not inherently interesting or rewarding. Intrinsic motivation can be useful when we need to perform complex or creative tasks that require curiosity or passion. By combining both types of motivation, we can optimize our performance and satisfaction in life.

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