Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Researchers have found that people usually do things based off of extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivators, or a mix of both. 
Extrinsic motivation is when you do something because of an obvious external reward like money or avoiding punishment (i.e. bad grades).
Internal motivation is when you have an internal desire to want to engage in the activity because you enjoy it. Usually when you’re genuinely interested in something or want to get better at it.
To be clear, there are wrong ways to apply these motivations. For example, there was a study done in 2008, where children were given external rewards for playing with a toy that they already enjoyed. After being rewarded, they found that the children were less interested in the toy. 
This is due to the over justification effect, which basically states that when a person is already interested in an activity, and you give them extrinsic rewards to engage in it, their intrinsic motivation will decrease. 
There is research that both supports and counters the over justification effect, however, the takeaway from the research from both sides is that, in order to use extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in a most beneficial way, you should keep in mind the following factors when using them:
  • Timing of the rewards
  • Is there already interest in the activity
  • How is the extrinsic reward applied
  • What is the personality of the person you’re helping with extrinsic & intrinsic motivations
  • What is the social environment
  • What is your goal 
Below are examples from studies that have tested extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in different scenarios. After sharing examples to give you context on how they’ve worked, we’ll share ideas at the end to help you get started with motivating your kids.
Timing of the rewards: Extrinsic rewards can increase intrinsic motivation when it’s applied at the right time. In one study, they found that kids who were given the extrinsic reward at the beginning of an activity were more interested and stayed engaged for a longer period of time than kids who were given the extrinsic reward at the end (for completion).
Existing interest: As you know, giving extrinsic rewards for engaging in an activity that a kid already enjoys can decrease their intrinsic motivation. However, interestingly enough, when the extrinsic reward is given unexpectedly, it will not affect the intrinsic motivation and underlying interest.
How extrinsic reward is applied: When extrinsic rewards are given based on competence (how good someone is at something), the intrinsic motivation increases for that person. As human beings, we have an innate desire to be competent and master our environment. 
When extrinsic rewards are not related to competence, it can decrease intrinsic motivation. For instance, a study found with two groups of kids found that the group that was given extrinsic rewards for their performance became more engaged in the activity than the group who were given extrinsic rewards based on the amount of time they spent engaging in an activity. 
Personality of person: Some kids will benefit more from motivation through competition because their intrinsic motivation increases when their competence is compared to other people in the competitive environment. 
Some kids’ intrinsic motivation increases more than others when they are verbally rewarded with recognition. Keep in mind that verbal rewards such as praise can be interpreted as controlling (which decreases intrinsic motivation). But verbal rewards that are informational and not perceived as controlling, will increase intrinsic motivation.
Social environment: Intrinsic motivation is split into three categories (competence, autonomy, and relatedness). In regards to relatedness, people are generally inclined to embody the behaviors and values of their social environment.

What is your goal: How you apply extrinsic and intrinsic motivations will depend on why you want to use them in the first place. For instance, some activities only get interesting after you have developed some mastery in the topic. So at first, it could be a good idea to use extrinsic rewards to get someone to start engaging and learning. 

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Applying this at home

When to use extrinsic rewards:
  • When you want to help your kid start learning something new
  • When you want to help your kid be more interested in engaging a certain activity
  • When you want to communicate that something they did or are doing is worthy of recognition
When to think about refraining from extrinsic rewards
  • When there is already a high level of interest in the activity
  • If applying extrinsic rewards will make that activity feel like work instead of play/fun
  • When the reward is too much in relation to the activity. When rewards are too high, it can have an adverse effect on intrinsic motivation. For example, it’s been seen in athletes that after signing large million dollar contracts, their performance diminishes (not going to name any names 🥸)
Ideas you can use:
  • Extrinsic rewards such as: game gift cards, favorite store gift cards, choice of what they want for lunch/dinner, destination choice for weekend
  • Intrinsic motivation: letting your kid know they have autonomy for certain things, giving them recognition for their competence (performance), sharing reasons behind why or the purpose of certain topics, surrounding them with other similar aged kids/teens who hold behaviors/interests you would like them to be inspired from
  • Extrinsic motivation could also simply be that you they get 2 hours of game time during the school week (even if they play already, it’s time that you and your agrees on where they don’t’ feel stressed where you might ask them to stop while they play)
If you have any ideas you think we could add to the list, feel free to share with us and we can always add them to the next post about motivations and credit you 🥰

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