Extrinsic Motivation: Understanding the External Factors that Drive Our Behaviour

Humans are naturally driven by the pursuit of goals as they seek to derive satisfaction, improve their performance and win laurels. To achieve these objectives, individuals rely on motivation to keep them going. Motivation is an internal force that drives a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions towards achieving specific goals. However, motivation can be classified into two types – intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to the drive that comes from within a person, while extrinsic motivation is external, and the focus of this article will be on extrinsic motivation.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation encompasses all the external factors that drive an individual’s behaviour. These external factors could be rewards, recognition, praise, status symbols, or other tangible and intangible incentives. Extrinsic motivation is usually driven by social, cultural, or environmental factors that operate outside the individual. In other words, extrinsic motivation is not derived from an individual’s sense of enjoyment or fulfilment but is based on the rewards or benefits they receive from others.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation can be found in a variety of settings, including work, school, sports, and interpersonal interactions. For instance, an employee who receives a bonus for meeting a sales target is extrinsically motivated. Similarly, a student who gets good grades to please their parents, teacher or to receive a scholarship is also extrinsically motivated. In sports, athletes compete and win trophies, medals, and accolades. These external rewards are examples of extrinsic motivation.

The Pros and Cons of Extrinsic Motivation

While extrinsic motivation can be effective in driving behaviour, there are pros and cons that come with it. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks.

The Pros of Extrinsic Motivation

  • Encourages High Performance: Extrinsic motivation can be a powerful tool to encourage high performance. When individuals anticipate external rewards like bonuses or awards, they are more likely to put in extra effort to achieve their goals.
  • Increase Job Satisfaction: Extrinsic motivation can enhance job satisfaction by making individuals feel valued and appreciated. Positive feedback, recognition, and rewards can motivate employees to work harder, which can enhance their sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction.
  • Recognition and Social Status: Extrinsic incentives such as recognition and social status can signify the individual’s achievements and help increase their self-esteem.

The Cons of Extrinsic Motivation

  • Can Reduce Intrinsic Motivation: Traditional extrinsic incentives such as financial rewards or bonuses have the potential to reduce intrinsic motivation. If individuals rely too much on external rewards, they may become less interested in the intrinsic enjoyment and satisfaction of the activity and focus only on the outcomes. This can lead to a decrease in their intrinsic motivation.
  • Can Lead to Unethical Behaviour: Extrinsic motivation can lead to unethical behaviour. For instance, employees may be motivated to achieve results at any cost to earn the rewards. In such a scenario, individuals may cheat, engage in immoral conduct and engage in other harmful behaviours to boost their chances of getting the reward.
  • May be Short-Lived: Extrinsic motivators may deliver short-term benefits, but they do not address the underlying issues that may be driving poor performance or disengagement.

The Future of Extrinsic Motivation

In the early days of motivation research, extrinsic incentives were thought to be the most effective method of motivating people. However, contemporary research indicates that motivation is much more complex, and the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is dynamic. This has led to the development of newer and more sophisticated methods of extrinsic motivation.

One of these is the idea of social incentives or “gamification,” which uses game mechanics to incentivise behaviour. For example, an app that rewards users for exercising or a social media platform that awards badges for sharing content. Another emerging technique is the use of “nudges,” which involves small changes in the way information is presented to trigger specific behaviours.

The Bottom Line

Extrinsic motivation is an important driver of human behaviour. It has the potential to encourage individuals to perform well, increase job satisfaction, and foster a sense of achievement. However, excessive reliance on external rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation and lead to unethical behaviours like cheating. Going forward, there is a need for a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to ensure that humans are not merely driven by external rewards and recognition.


What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is a type of motivation that comes from external sources such as rewards, punishments, or recognition. It is based on the idea that people are more likely to do something if they believe they will gain something from it or avoid something negative.

What are some examples of Extrinsic Motivation?

Examples of extrinsic motivation include receiving a bonus at work for completing a task, getting a good grade on an assignment for studying hard, or winning a prize for participating in a contest. These external rewards or incentives are used to motivate individuals to perform a specific behaviour.

Is Extrinsic Motivation better than Intrinsic Motivation?

The effectiveness of extrinsic motivation depends on the individual and the situation. While external rewards can be effective in the short-term, they may not necessarily lead to long-term behaviour change or satisfaction. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within the individual and is driven by personal interest or enjoyment of the activity itself. It is generally considered to be a more sustainable and fulfilling form of motivation.


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