We require motivation to complete any and every task when it comes to life. More often than not, we come face to face with displeasing tasks (cleaning your room, tidying up the mess, washing dishes, working ten hours a day, going to school, etc) however, we drive ourselves to accomplish them, we force ourselves to do the task despite the fact that it is the least thing that we wish to do. The reason behind it is simple: these tasks are necessary, in order to live. The question remains: Exactly how do we drive ourselves to accomplish these tasks? The answer is a simple one; we are able to accomplish these tasks through a phenomenon known as Extrinsic Motivation.

When it comes to a motivation of an individual to accomplish tasks, there are two kinds: Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation.

Brief Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Type One: Intrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation is basically motivation arising from within the person, i.e. the person just likes doing it, for example, a man washing dishes because it makes him feel more in control, neat and organised. In the case of Intrinsic Motivation, the person does not in any way expects any rewards after the completion of the task.

Type Two: Extrinsic.

Extrinsic Motivation is basically motivation arising from outside the individual or the environment, i.e. the person has no interest in it whatsoever themselves. In the case of Extrinsic, the person is only motivated to accomplish an unpleasant task for the reward they are promised to receive. For example: A maid working 10 hours a day for her paycheck.

In-dept Example of Extrinsic Motivation

Take school for example, we all have gone to school or are still going. Do you willingly wake up every morning at six, five days a week, to get ready and rush to learn at a time when you can’t even think straight? Are you all smiles and happy each and every day? If not then it means that you do the task anyway because of what you will get in return, i.e. graduation, admission into a good university followed by a stable job. This basically means that you are extrinsically motivated or motivated by the thought of external rewards which you will receive after your graduation.

On the other hand, if you do wake up all smiles and happy for school normally, then it means you are Intrinsically motivated to go to school, i.e. you find learning and school is generally enjoyable.

In essence, a person extrinsically motivated will force themselves to go out, invest and accomplish a task when they know that they will be getting a reward for it. We are all in need of something, and if the reward meets that particular need of hours, we are ready to give away something for it in any case. You, as a student, give away your precious sleep and relaxation time to invest into studies because you’ll receive a reward of graduation on its completion; an employed individual works behind a desk for most part of the day because they are in need of the paycheck; a maid invests some hard labor into her work six days a week because she is in need of the payment it will provide her, despite the fact that its immensely tiresome.

Extrinsic Motivation and Abraham Maslow’s Theory

Abraham Maslow presented his Hierarchy of Human Needs Theory which basically delivered the explanation as to why people do the thing they do. It consisted of a five-story pyramid, each level filled with a need, with the bottom most being the most immediate followed by the one above it and so on. The levels are: Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Social Needs, Esteem Needs and Self-Actualization Needs.

Taking Maslow’s theory into consideration with Extrinsic Motivation, we can see a relation. Maslow says that humans will act to satisfy the level of need on which they are stuck on, for example: If a person is stuck on the first level, Physiological Needs and is basically starving then they try finding any way possible to get some food. Now looking at Extrinsic Motivation, a person will only indulge in an unpleasant task if they are to receive something that they need by the end of it. So in the case of the previous example of a man stuck on the first level of Maslow’s needs and is starving, then they will indulge into any job, no matter how tiresome, no matter how hard, to earn some money and feed themselves. In short, we are all hungry for something and are willing to give something in return of whatever it is that we are hungry for.

A person stuck on Social Needs, will indulge into some activities or tasks which might grant him friends towards the end; a person stuck on Esteem Needs will indulge into some hard tasks at a firm to gain the respect of his peers, etc.

Conditions of Application of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is recognized overall as a brilliant method to get people or even you yourself to commit to tasks even when you don’t particularly enjoy them. However, there are some conditions in which if Extrinsic motivation is applied, it can backfire.

If a person is already Intrinsically motivated and you also try to extrinsically motivate him, then the initial intrinsic motivation will diminish after a few trials. This is known as the over-justification effect. 

If too much Extrinsic Motivation is presented with an already existing Intrinsic Motivation, it can make the task seem more like “work” rather than a “hobby” or a “fun time”. Moreover, if Extrinsic motivation is presented at the accomplishment of small tasks, then Intrinsic motivation will decrease.

However, if Extrinsic Motivation is unexpectedly presented where Intrinsic was already existing, then it will not diminish the initial interest in the task. Extrinsic Motivation after a time can also give birth to Intrinsic Motivation in a human, and even praise as an external reward can increase Intrinsic motivation.


19 year old undergraduate Psychology student, with an immense love for food, journals and cool socks.

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