Intrinsic motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behaviour arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behaviour in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments. Of course, that isn’t to say that intrinsically motivated behaviour are without their own rewards. Instead, these rewards involve creating positive emotions within the individual. Activities can generate such feelings when they give people a sense of meaning (like participating in volunteer or church events), a sense of progress (seeing that your work is accomplishing something positive), or competence (learning something new or becoming more skilled at a task).
“A person’s intrinsic enjoyment of an activity provides sufficient justification for their behaviour,” explains author Richard A Griggs in his text Psychology: A Concise Introduction. “With the addition of extrinsic reinforcement, the person may perceive the task as over justified and then attempt to understand their true motivation (extrinsic versus intrinsic) for engaging in the activity.”
In work settings, productivity can be increased by using extrinsic rewards such as bonuses, but the actual quality of the work performed is influenced by intrinsic factors. If you are doing something that you find rewarding, interesting, and challenging, you are more likely to come up with novel ideas and creative solutions. Malone and Lepper (1987) define activities as intrinsically motivating if “people engage in it for its own sake, rather than in order to receive some external reward or avoid some external punishment. We use the words fun, interesting, captivating, enjoyable, and intrinsically motivating all more or less interchangeably to describe such activities.”
The factors that they identify as increasing intrinsic motivation are:
Challenge: People are more motivated when they pursue goals that have personal meaning, that relate to their self-esteem when performance feedback is available, and when attaining the goal is possible but not necessarily certain.
Curiosity: Internal motivation is increased when something in the physical environment grabs the individual’s attention (sensory curiosity) and when something about the activity stimulates the person to want to learn more (cognitive curiosity).
Control: People want control over themselves and their environments and want to determine what they pursue.
Cooperation and Competition: Intrinsic motivation can be increased in situations where people gain satisfaction from helping others and in cases where they are able to compare their own performance favorably to that of others.
Recognition: People enjoy having their accomplishment recognized by others, which can increase internal motivation.
Experts have noted that offering unnecessary rewards can have unexpected costs. While we like to think that offering a reward will improve a person’s motivation, interest, and performance, this isn’t always the case. For example, when children are rewarded for playing with toys that they already enjoy playing with, their motivation and enjoyment of those toys actually decreases.
It is important to note, however, that a number of factors can influence whether intrinsic motivation is increased or decreased by external rewards. Salience or how significant the event itself is often plays a critical role.