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Understanding Extrinsic Motivation: How External Factors Drive Our Actions

Extrinsic motivation plays a pivotal role in shaping our behavior and decisions. Unlike intrinsic motivation, which springs from within, extrinsic motivators are external factors or rewards that drive us to perform specific tasks or pursue certain goals. On this page we delve into the nature of extrinsic motivation, backed by credible sources, and provide real-life examples to aid in understanding.
Extrinsic MotivatorsSkip explanation & jump to the list of external motivatoras we quantify in our assessment.


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Extrinsic Motivators

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, or praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which involves doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable.

Key Extrinsic Motivators:

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Financial Incentives

Monetary rewards are perhaps the most straightforward example of extrinsic motivation. For instance, an employee working overtime to receive additional pay exemplifies this motivator.
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Rewards and Punishments

Rewards (like bonuses or awards) and punishments (such as disciplinary actions or fines) in a workplace or educational setting are classic extrinsic motivators.

Social Recognition

Social Recognition

Praise from others, social acknowledgment, or fame can also serve as powerful extrinsic motivators. An athlete competing for a medal or a student striving for top grades to gain recognition from peers and teachers are examples.

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External Expectations

Sometimes, the expectations or demands of others, such as parents or supervisors, can motivate individuals to engage in certain behaviors.

The Impact of Extrinsic Motivation:

According to Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory, extrinsic motivation can vary in how much it is internalized, which affects its impact on individuals. While extrinsic motivators can be effective in initiating an activity, they might not always result in long-term engagement or satisfaction, particularly if the activity doesn’t align with the individual’s intrinsic interests or values. Extrinsic rewards can sometimes even undermine intrinsic motivation, a phenomenon known as the "overjustification effect" (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973).

Connection to your Basic Human Needs:

Self-Determination Theory, developed by Prof. Deci and Prof. Ryan, helps us unravel this puzzle! It posits that humans have innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these needs are satisfied, we are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation, a powerful force driving us to engage in activities because we find them inherently rewarding.

🔍 Let's Connect the Dots:

1️⃣ Autonomy: When we engage in activities willingly and autonomously, our intrinsic motivation flourishes. If we suddenly add extrinsic rewards, like bonuses or recognition, we may start doing it primarily for those rewards rather than personal satisfaction.

2️⃣ Competence: Feeling competent and capable in an activity boosts our intrinsic motivation. Introducing external rewards can inadvertently undermine our sense of competence, as we may start doubting our skills without those rewards.

3️⃣ Relatedness: The social aspect plays a significant role in motivation. If we initially participated in an activity to connect with others or foster relationships, overjustification through external rewards can disrupt the genuine social connection we once enjoyed.

Balancing Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation:

For optimal motivation and satisfaction, a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is often recommended. For example, in a workplace, while salary (an extrinsic motivator) is important, job satisfaction and personal growth (intrinsic motivators) are also crucial for long-term employee engagement and productivity.


Understanding extrinsic motivation is key in many areas, from education and business to personal development. While external rewards can be effective in motivating behavior, relying solely on them can be counterproductive in the long run. Recognizing and balancing both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can lead to more sustained engagement and fulfillment in various aspects of life.

List of extrinsic personal values used in our core values finder

The following is a list of all the extrinsic personal core values that were used in the assessment. Each value has a detailed scientific explanation of its effects on different domains of life.