What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic Motivation is one of the oldest and most common forms of motivation in the world.  Simply stated, when we experience extrinsic motivation we expect to be rewarded.

A more formal definition refers to motivation that’s derived from outside a person.  The motivating factors come externally in the form of rewards such as money or, in the case of a student, rewards come in the form of grades.  It’s the reward that provides satisfaction from completing the task and not the pleasure of doing it.

A person who is motivated extrinsically will work on a task even though he or she may hate the activity itself because of the anticipated reward.  Extrinsic motivation has been called crude and rudimentary, but it’s probably one of the most effective types of motivation used today.  It’s criticized because it focuses on the reward and not the action.  But studies have revealed that if you withhold the reward, the action usually stops.

Rewards are not always great.  It can be as minor as a gold star or your name on the honor roll.  Students who are extrinsically motivated might work tirelessly on an assignment in exchange for a good grade. But doing the work just for the sheer pleasure is not acceptable to that person.  The student may find the assignment extremely boring, but the anticipation of receiving an exemplary grade is enough to keep the student motivated until the task is complete.

Punishments and rewards are used to control the motivation of students with the teachers clearly in control.  When this method is used, critics allege that it doesn’t allow students to think for themselves and develop self-determination, which in turn inhibits independent thinking. This can foster conflict and resentment between the students and teachers.

Critics of extrinsic motivation say this method is easy but doesn’t work for the betterment of all concerned.  When a person is working solely for a monetary reward, their desire to do a good job in diminished.  It’s also said that it lowers the employee’s self esteem.

We see this type of motivation daily in everything we do.  Supermarkets buy our loyalty with point cards, specials, and discounts, instead of simply offering exemplary service and low prices.  It’s the same with airlines that offer air miles and companies that use bonuses and commissions as motivation to fly or work with them.

Fear of being fined or penalized is a form of extrinsic motivation.  We’re told to not smoke or we must wear seat belts and we obey these demands for fear of receiving a fine.  The reward comes for doing what we’re told and not because they’ve instilled in us the desire to do these things because they’re good for us.

Extrinsic motivation is based on an obligation of doing what we get paid for and not for the love of doing.  But regardless of its offensive qualities, we must tolerate it everywhere, every day.

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