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Understanding Neutral Motivation: The Middle Ground in Behavioral Drive

Neutral motivation, a concept less explored in psychological literature compared to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, pertains to behaviors that are neither inherently enjoyable nor externally rewarded or in other words, encompasses actions not strongly driven by either internal desires or external rewards. It represents a middle ground between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  This page integrates perspectives from scholars like Schwartz, Deci, and Ryan to elucidate this concept.
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Neutral Motivators

What is Neutral Motivation?

Neutral motivation refers to a state where actions are neither fueled by deep internal desires nor by external rewards. In this state, individuals engage in activities due to neither strong internal nor external compulsions. It's a state where actions are performed out of routine, necessity, or habit rather than passion or reward.

Neutral motivation aligns with performing functional and practical tasks that do not significantly contribute to personal growth or external rewards but are necessary for daily functioning.

  1. Schwartz's Theory of Basic Human Values: While Schwartz primarily focuses on intrinsic values, his theory implies that not all actions align with these core values, leading to neutral motivation in certain routine or obligatory tasks (Schwartz, 2012).

  2. Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory: According to Deci and Ryan, neutral motivation might occur in activities that do not fulfill the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, thus lacking the intrinsic quality of motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

    Deci and Ryan also emphasize the role of autonomy in motivation. Activities done without a sense of choice might fall into the realm of neutral motivation, as they are neither intrinsically fulfilling nor extrinsically rewarding (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Characteristics of Neutral Motivators

Daily Routine

Routine Actions

Activities like daily chores or basic professional tasks often fall under neutral motivation. These are actions performed not for pleasure or reward but as part of a routine or obligation.
Being Neutral

Absence of Strong Emotional Drive

Unlike intrinsic motivation, which is associated with passion and enjoyment, or extrinsic motivation, which is driven by rewards, neutral motivation lacks a strong emotional component.
Habitual Behaviour

Habitual Behavior

Many habitual behaviors are driven by neutral motivation. They are neither particularly enjoyable nor externally incentivized but are carried out due to established patterns or habits.
Neutral Motivation

Functional and Practical Actions

Neutral motivation is often linked to practical and functional actions that are necessary but not particularly rewarding or enjoyable.

The Impact of Neutral Motivation:

Neutral motivation plays a crucial role in daily life. It helps maintain routine and order, ensuring that necessary but unexciting tasks are completed. While it might not lead to significant personal fulfillment or external rewards, it supports the smooth functioning of daily life and professional obligation

Balancing Neutral Motivation

Understanding neutral motivation is important in balancing it with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Recognizing when neutral motivation is leading to a lack of engagement or satisfaction is key to introducing more intrinsically or extrinsically motivating factors to enhance overall motivation and well-being.


Neutral motivation is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of human behavior. It represents the actions we undertake as part of our daily routine and obligations, serving as a foundational element of our day-to-day lives. Understanding this concept, as illuminated by Schwartz, Deci, and Ryan, helps in comprehending the full spectrum of what drives our actions. Furthermore, recognizing and appreciating the role of neutral motivation can lead to a more balanced and well-rounded understanding of human drive and behavior. 

List of neutral personal values used in our core value finder

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