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The Difference Between Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation

author image Novella Thompson
Novella Thompson began writing in 1995 and has written for academic publications, edited textbooks and was a health/fitness columnist for "Bella" magazine. Thompson teaches at the University of Virginia, is a trainer for the Darden School of Business Executive Program and is a Health Educator with UVA-WorkMed. She holds a Master of Arts in clinical counseling from Marshall University and is a personal/athletic trainer.
The Difference Between Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation
Group of young people standing on a beach with arms raised in the air. Photo Credit plustwentyseven/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There are many theories about what motivates people. In actuality, you are motivated by both internal and external factors, as there is always a mixture of reasons why you do, achieve, behave, learn and react. Personality and self-concept often determine whether or not you will be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. If you understand the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors, you have a greater probability of motivating yourself or others. Every behavior has a underlying cause, and understanding the cause of behavior and motivating factors is key to changing or improving outcomes.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic means internal or inside of yourself. When you are intrinsically motivated, you enjoy an activity, course or skill development solely for the satisfaction of learning and having fun, and you are determined to strive inwardly in order to be competent. There is not external inducement when intrinsic motivation is the key to behavior or outcome.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

When you are motivated intrinsically, you have fun and look for skill development and competency, personal accomplishment and excitement. If you write articles for the curiosity and fun of learning and sharing information or run because it relieves stress and makes you feel better or excites you to improve your personal time, you are intrinsically motivated. As well, when you learn a new game and seek to play it often because it excites you to think differently and work internally to develop your skills, you are motivated by intrinsic measures.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic means external or outside of yourself. This type of motivation is everywhere and frequently used within society throughout your lifetime. When you are motivated to behave, achieve, learn or do based on a highly regarded outcome, rather than for the fun, development or learning provided within an experience, you are being extrinsically motivated.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

Trophies, medals, money, discounts, grades, entrance to programs or schools, higher commission percentages, new clothes and losing weight are all examples of extrinsic motivators. In childhood, bribery is used; schools use grades, trophies and academic recognition based on good behavior; grocers use discount cards and coupons to save you money while you shop at their store; corporations use bonuses and commission scales to encourage growth and sales numbers.


The main argument and difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation contends that intrinsic motivation is derived from a self-concept, core beliefs, internal need and development opposed to extrinsic motivators which can undermine these motivations. According to Dr. James Gavin, a professor at Concordia University, motives need to be additive in effect, which means the more reasons you find to motivate yourself to engage in a behavior, the more likely you will continue with and persist in these behaviors. External motivators are typically not additive.

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