Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivational Theory

Goal 1: Describe, compare, and contrast key theories and concepts.

The Intrinsic-Extrinsic Motivational theories focus on understanding motivation in terms of the reason people engage in certain activities (Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2008). People who engage in activities for the sole purpose of learning are considered intrinsically motivated. On the other hand, people who engage in activities for external reasons are extrinsically motivated. External reasons include rewards, praise, and to avoid punishment. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are contextual and vary over time. In other words, they are specific to person, place, and time, as well as activity.

The following video explains intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the world of business. The video is an adaptation of Dan Pink's talks and provides specific examples of businesses that use these concepts to improve production and employee satisfaction.

Early work on intrinsic motivation began with Robert W. White (1959) who advanced the work of Hull's motivational theory of the 1930s and 1940s (Schunk et al., 2008). His work focused on the concept of effectance motivation, which was defined as a feeling of achievement. This was the beginning of the understanding of competence in terms of human motivation. White described effectance motivation as something that becomes more differentiated over childhood and pushes humans towards competence. Additional concepts emerged in the early work of intrinsic motivation and include incongruity. Work on incongruity is credited to Hunt (1963). This work focused on motivation in terms of incongruity between prior and new experiences. Incongruity sparked intrinsic motivation which focused on resolving the differences between memory and new experiences. This incongruity must be balanced to avoid frustration; therefore, it was necessary to understand how does one establish this balance.
This work was continued with Harter's model of effectance motivation (Schunk et al., 2008). Harter's work advanced White's original concept of by including the idea that competence is differentiated by domains (i.e., school, work, sports, etc.) and difficulty (i.e., tasks too hard or too easy decrease motivation). Social influence is included as a positive reinforcement that is required to maintain effectance motivation. The model displays positive and negative outcomes in response to the degree the environment supports one's internal desires. This model introduced the idea of perceived competence and the assumption that one's internal input was more important than external input. This theory was studies within the educational setting and some findings support the idea that some extrinsic motivation may be internalized. One key aspect of this model is the use of external rewards to influence the internalization of goals.
This brings the advancement of motivational theories to the concept of perceived control. External locus of control indicates that individual input has little effect on behavior because it is controlled from an external force. Internal locus of control is defined as having control over one's actions and behaviors. This led to deCharms' (1968) advancement of personal causation. This concept was based upon the assumption that motivation is based on an individual's need to change his or her environment and begins the development of autonomy which was advanced by Ryan and Deci's (2000) Self-Determination Theory. Another intrinsic/extrinsic motivational theory is emergent motivation and flow. This theory was developed by Csikszentmihalyi in 1985. Flow is a whole body experience that occurs when someone is engrossed in a task or behavior (Schunk et al., 2008).
The most current intrinsic-extrinsic motivational theory is the Self-Determination Theory. This theory was developed by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci in the 1950s with the exploration of human motivation and is based upon innate psychological needs. Deci and Ryan (1985) published a book titled Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior which described the conceptual development of this theory. In 2000, Ryan and Deci, published an article titled Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being which provided an overview of the Self-Determination Theory.
The Self-Determination Theory states that individuals are born with an internal drive towards growth, well-being, and social integration. However, social environments affect the progression of this drive. The theory states that inner resources help achieve self-regulation. These inner resources are fostered through three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These three needs are necessary to support the internal drive for growth, social development and well-being. The Self-Determination theory consists of five sub-theories that explain intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, orientations, goals, causations and basic psychological needs (Self-determination theory, n.d.).

  • Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) -focuses on intrinsic motivation in self-determined behavior.
  • Organismic Integration Theory (OIT) -focuses on extrinsic motivation and the role on integration.
  • Causality Orientations Theory (COT) -focuses on the differences in orientations and regulation of behavior.
  • Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) -psychological well-being is dependent upon autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Goal Contents Theory (GCT) -the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic goals and their associated impact on well-being.

Through the exploration of autonomy, the self-determination theory further describes a motivational continuum (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is viewed as the most autonomous, where as amotivation is the lack of motivation. The inclusion of four different levels of extrinsic motivation was considered an advancement of motivational knowledge. One level of extrinsic motivation, defined as integrated regulation, is accepted and consistent with a person's belief system; therefore, it is similar to intrinsic motivation. The following figure provides a visual explanation of this motivational continuum.

The following video is another look at the motivation continuum developed by Ryan and Deci (2000).

Self-Determination Theory compared to...

Self-Determination Theory compared to...

Attribution Theory
Considers locus of control, which is similar to autonomy and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
SDT does not consider causes of successes and failure
Expectancy-Value Theory
Both consider self-perception of ability or competence. EVT considers cognitive engagement related to choice concern and autonomy. SDT extends autonomy into environmental concerns.
SDT considers extrinsic motivation
Goal Theory
Both place a focus on intrinsic motivation
SDT places an emphasis on developing an environment, which supports autonomy, relatedness, and competence
Social Cognitive Theory
Both acknowledge environmental influences. Self-efficacy and competence have theoretical similarities
SDT does not consider the influence of observation on behavior.
Chart (Schunk et al., 2008).

Key Self-Determination Theory Terms Picture_14.png

  • Self-determination - is the process of using one's will
  • Will - the ability of a human to choose how to satisfy his or her own needs.
  • Basic Psychological Needs - self-determination is supported in environments that support autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Autonomy - the ability to satisfy one's desires or needs of the mind; an internal locus of control.
  • Competence - the need to be able to master one's environment, tasks and activities, and interactions with others.
  • Relatedness - the need to feel connected to others.
  • Intrinsic Motivation - the need to feel competent, autonomous, and related to the environment and others; high levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Autonomous Motivation - motivation that has higher levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Extrinisic Motivation - the desire to engage in a task or behavior because of some external reason.
  • Integrated Regulation - is the most autonomous extrinsic motivation and represents behaviors that are fully accepted and congruent with one's values and beliefs.
  • Identified Regulation - is more autonomous than introjected and external regulation but represents behavior that is consciously valued for its utility value, which in turn is personally accepted as important.
  • Introjected Regulation - is more autonomous than external regulation but is still considered controlled because it is performed to avoid feelings of guilt and anxiety, such as pride.
  • External Regulation - the least autonomous behavior and is contingent upon external rewards.
  • Controlled Motivation - motivation that has lower levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence
  • Amotivation - absence of motivation; low levels of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
  • Flow - a whole body experience when someone is engrossed in a task or behavior.

Key Concepts (Schunk et al., 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Goal 2: Assess the value of these theories.

From Theory to Practice in Reviewed Articles:

The following section provides a short summary of reviewed articles for self-determination theory. Applications of the self-determination theory include education, healthcare, organizations and work, politics, and religion.

This article provides evidence of the predictive link between parent and teachers on student academic motivation, where as peer connections were not validated (Van Ryzin, Gravely, Roseth, 2009).

This article describes the use of SDT within a classroom setting. Several examples of how to support intrinsic motivation, extrinisic motivation, and the process of internalization are provided in this article (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009).

This article describes the application of the self-determination theory and its role as a change theory and its positive effect on aspirations for smoking abstinence (Niemiec, Ryan, Deci, & Williams, 2009).

This article provides an application of self-determination theory to the workplace setting. The study explored the effect of autonomy, relatedness, and competence on employee, which predicted positive psychological adjustments and performance (Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004).

This article describes the influence of self-determination theory on political motivation. The findings identified that when political values were fully integrated individuals demonstrated more stable political attitudes (Losier, Perreault, Koestner, & Vallerand, 2001). .

This article describes a study of the application of the self-determination theory to understanding religious motivation. The study compared catholics and protestants and introjected motivation. The findings found that guilt impacted the introjected motivation of catholics more than protestants; however, this did not affect intrinsic motivation or well-being (Sheldon, 2006).

From Theory to Practice - In personal life...

Applying intrinsic/extrinsic motivation to my personal life (Carla), is easy to explain while watching my fourteen year old daughter work on projects from a social studies class. Last year, she did not like this class. The teacher was very strict and required large, dictated study guides. These study guides were to be memorized word for word and tested every week. Although my daughter did well, it was torture. This year is a huge contrast. I knew something was different when I did not have to buy her a text book. The assignments are all project based and the students have autonomy over how they complete the assignments. Her last assignment was a scrap book of a Navy nurse from World War II. She worked on this for several weeks and required no involvement from me. It was easy to see how an environment that supports autonomy and intrinsic motivation improved her motivation and learning. She knows more about World War II than I do.

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation tied to other theories

It is easy to see how intrinsic/extrinsic motivation applies to me; however, other theories are also tied to my personal examples. For example, my motivation for acquiring a doctorate degree started as a child. I remember saying that I was going to have a PhD one day. I usually attribute my successes to luck and my failures to lack of effort. I have never thought that I was unsuccessful because of my ability. I just needed to try harder. I had many successes early on and somehow built a strong feeling of competence. However, I have always been a goal setter. I usually have the next two or three life goals mapped out in my head. I think these goals help support my intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic factors or motivators usually influence how engaged I am in a task or behavior. However, if that task or behavior is on my plan, I tolerate and persist until I achieve my goal. This persistence is easy because these tasks will help me achieve a goal that I value. I am on track to complete my PhD course work in two years while working full-time. Stay tuned for my upcoming dissertation, which is the application of the self-determination theory to foster youth transitioning to adulthood.

Goal 3: Identify major contributors and their contributions.

Robert W. White: Developed the concept of effectance motivation in 1959 which furthered the work of Hull (White, 1959).

Susan Harter: Advanced White's concept of effectance motivation into Harter's model of effectance motivation (Harter, 1978).

Harter's Model of Effectance Motivation (Harter, 1978)

Richard M. Ryan: Co-developed the self-determination theory with Edward L. Deci in early 1960's. First article published in 2000 regarding the findings of this empirically tested psychology theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Currently, Deci is clinical faculty at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. His current interests are human motivation and environments that undermine intrinsic motivation.
Richard M. Ryan
Edward L. Deci

Edward L. Deci: Co-developed the self-determination theory with Richard M. Ryan in the early 1960's. First article published in 2000 regarding the findings of this empirically tested psychology theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Currently, Ryan is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. He is still currently testing and advancing this theory.

Pictures and current biographical information (Self-determination theory, n.d.)


Baard, P. P., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Intrinsic need satisfaction: A motivational basis of performance and well-being in two work settings. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(10), 2045-2068.
Hunt, J. (1963). Motivation inherent in information processing and action. In O. J. Harvey (Ed.), Motivation and social interaction: Cognitive determinants (pp. 35-94). New York, NY: Ronald.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.
Losier, G. F., Perreault, S., Koestner, R., & Vallerand, R. J. (2001). Journal of Research in Personality, 35, 41-61.
Harter, S. (1978). Effectance motivation reconsidered: Toward a developmental model. Human Development, 1, 34-64.
Niemiec, C. P. & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying the self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(1), 133-144. doi: 10.1177/1477878509104318
Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L., & Williams, G. C. (2009). Aspiring to physical health: The role of aspirations for physical health in facilitating long-term tobacco abstinence. Patient Education and Counseling, 74, 250-257.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi: 10.10370003-066x.55.1.68
Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2008). Motivation in education, (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Self-determination theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Sheldon, K. M. (2006). Catholic guilt? Comparing Catholics' and Protestants' religious motivation. Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 16(3), 209-223.
Van Ryzin, M. J., Gravely, A. A., & Roseth, C. J. (2009). Journal of Youth Adolescence, 38(1), 1-12.
White, R. W., (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66,// 297-333.