The Power Of Intrinsic Motivation

the power of intrinsic motivation

This is known as the overjustification effect:

If a child is already intrinsically motivated to do something, and then you layer on an extrinsic reward for it, the behavior decreases. Studies have found this not only with children’s drawing, but with music, dance, and sports as well.

The same is often true for adults. Think of the classic Jerry Maguire storyline: a young athlete who plays and competes for the love of the game (intrinsically motivated). When they go pro and finally get paid to play (extrinsically motivated), their drive to play goes down. Or artists who were originally driven by their own curiosity, only to become jaded when they’re rewarded for their art with fame and fortune.

Related: Why a Growth Mindset is Essential Throughout Life

Final Thoughts On Intrinsic Rewards And The Psychology Of Motivation

All in all, extrinsic rewards can drive behavior, especially in the short term. But whether in art, sports or life, if that behavior is already intrinsically motivated, adding in a reward can have the opposite effect on it. Extrinsic motivation is a fickle thing.

In contrast, intrinsic motivation is like an endless wellspring. It drives behavior from within. We engage in the behavior because of a love for it itself, irrespective of its instrumental value. In that sense, the behavior becomes integrated with our identity.

Compared to extrinsic rewards, the difficulty lies in our inability to directly give someone an intrinsic drive. It’s much easier to program external rewards into a running app than it is to program in a genuine love of running. Intrinsic motivation is rarer and more difficult to harness.

In the running world, these are people who simply love to run; running for running’s sake. And in the art world, these are people like Henry Darger: the rare ones who simply create for the sake of creation.


Burkeman, O. (2014) Want to succeed? You need systems not goals, The Guardian

Cerasoli, C. P., Nicklin, J. M., & Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives Jointly Predict Performance: A 40-Year Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication.

D'Alessio, F.N. (July 29, 2008). "Posthumous fame grows for artist Henry Darger". The San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved November 24, 2018.

"Henry Darger Room Collection". Archived from the original on October 27, 2017.

Warneken, F. & Tomasello, M. (2008). Extrinsic Rewards Undermine Altruistic Tendencies in 20-Month-Olds. Developmental psychology. 44. 1785-8. 10.1037/a0013860.

Written by: Matt Johnson, Ph.D
Originally appeared on:Psychology Today
Republished with permission
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The Power Of Intrinsic Motivation
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Matt Johnson Ph.D.

Matt Johnson, Ph.D. is the founder of the consumer psychology blog PopNeuro, and instructor of the Neuromarketing Bootcamp™, which trains marketers to ethically apply the principles of neuroscience.View Author posts