Motivation,  The Science Behind Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation – The Science Behind Motivation (#MMM)

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Last week’s Millie’s Motivational March blog post was all about becoming more self-aware to what motivation means to you. Hopefully you have been utilising your knowledge to help progress towards your March goal!

In 2019, I started a blog post series called ‘The Science Behind Motivation‘. As you all know by now, I kinda like motivation. And so, I thought I would share my findings in a series! I already have a blog post live about Intrinsic Motivation so, if you identified that as your type last week, you may find that useful.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

The American Psycological Association defines extrinsic motivation as “An external incentive to engage in a specific activity, especially motivation arising from expectation of a reward or punishment“.

The opposite to intrinsic, extrinsic motivation is where you gain the motivation to do something because of an external factor. Whether it be money, a promotion or a physical body change – it all drive extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is important. Not everyone has, or can easily utilise, intrinsic motivation. And so, that brings us to ask…

Is Extrinsic Motivation More Effective Than Intrinsic?

From what I’ve read, the answer isn’t a simple one. Sansome and Harackiewicz, in 2000 when looking at research, states “There is perhaps the greatest divergence of opinion in terms of whether and how rewards can postively affect motivation“. [1]

Extrinsic motivation is more accessible but potentially has less strength than intrinsic. If you are intrinsically motivated to do something, you are likely to be powerful. You don’t need a reward to do it, you are doing it for the feeling inside. But, that doesn’t mean you should feel bad if you don’t have it for something.

Not everyone can be intrinsically motivated for everything, if at all. And that is where extrinsic motivation comes in. Legault in 2016 stated “Although intrinsic motivation is considered the most optimal form of motivation and is associated with various benefits – including enjoyment, persistence and psyhcological wellbeing, extrinsic motivators are something thought to be helpful to promote action for behaviours that are not intrinsically interesting“. [2]

Therefore, it is likely that most people will experience a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation depending on the activity. But, it is important to remember that the relationship between the two may not be mutual. It is suggested that you cannot experience both true intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at the same time. This is because, as Legault states, “…extrinsic rewards tend to shift the individual’s reason for performing the behaviour from internal (e.g. interest, fun) to external (e.g. to recieve the reward), thus changing the source of motivation“. [2]

So, is extrinsic motivation more effective than intrinsic? The answer may be no but it is unlikely to be that simple. Inintrinsic motivation appears to be stronger, as it comes so naturally and does not require conscious work or an incentive to exist. However, where intrinsic motivation doesn’t exist (such as, for many, in the workplace) extrinsic motivation comes in and does quite an effective job.

Pictures of me with extrinsic motivation

How Can I Benefit From Extrinsic Motivation?

The issue with extrinsic motivation though is the requirement for an incentive and just how easy it is for that motivation to disappear without it, or even stop caring about it! “When people engage in activities for extrinsic rewards, their motivation is entrenched in the environment rather than within themselves“. [2]

After all, the use of incentives and rewards to motivate people decreases the likelihood that genuine interest and self-generated motivation will develop and persist.

Legault, 2016

To put it in easier terms, think about training a dog. The dog does what you say and you give it a reward. Without the reward, there is no reason for the dog to listen to you and would struggle to be trained. It is the same for a kid doing chores, it is unlikely the kid is going to go out of their own way to do them without reward, such as pocket money.

Therefore, it is important to pay attention and why last week’s blog post is so relevant. If you don’t continue to practice this motivation ‘skill’ it isn’t going to be easy. So, if you are in need of some help, utilise the tips I provided last week and do some research as there may be tips specific to your own March goal.

Think about what type of person you are. Do you prefer waiting and working towards one big reward or do you need lots of little ones along the way? Keep things updated and interesting so you don’t become bored. Visualise what you want. Do you want to lift a certain weight in the gym or earn a certain grade? Ask yourself all these questions and set yourself up on your journey. And don’t forget to keep track!


I hope you have found this week’s Millie’s Motivational March blog post interesting and welcome the return of the ‘Science Behind Motivation‘ series! If you have any questions or thoughts then please leave them in a comment below and don’t forget to let me know how you are progressing towards your March goal.

Also, don’t forget, this week’s Millie’s Motivational March YouTube video is all about ‘How to be that Cheerleader Friend‘.

Until next time my friends!

-Millie 🙂

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