Extrinsic Motivation: What Is It, and How Can You Make It Work For You?

Feedback from others such as winning a trophy, being praised or getting paid, are all examples of extrinsic motivation in operant conditioning.

Feedback from others — such as winning a trophy, being praised, getting paid, or avoiding fines — are all examples of extrinsic motivation.

They’re all examples of “operant conditioning” – the practice of reinforcing behavior with positive or negative motivation in order to encourage or reduce that behavior. 

Below, we take a look at how you can use the concepts to achieve your goals.

How Does Extrinsic Motivation Work?

Through use of these motivations, association is then made by the person between what they do and what they receive.

Extrinsic motivation relies on incentive.

However, this incentive does not necessarily need to be tangible (for example, money)

It may be intangible, but there are very real effects of things like good grades, fame, or shame, which can be utilized in a range of areas from mental health to parenting. 

People who are extrinsically motivated behave with this motivation in mind– they’re not doing what they do for its own sake!

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

To be extrinsically motivated means having a goal in mind, separate from what a person is currently doing.

The following are examples of different types of extrinsic motivators:


  • Taking part in sport specifically to win, over the enjoyment of the game
  • Studying to win scholarships and/or get good grades in an exam or contest, rather than wanting to learn
  • Working to get paid
  • Buying objects only to take advantage of a sale (buy one, get one free)


  • Obeying the commands of parents to avoid getting in trouble for bad manners
  • Completing activities so that you receive fame, or other praise
  • Behaving in a certain way to avoid judgment or shame

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

So, what about the difference in motivational types? 

Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation is the contrast between internal and external factors when it comes to being motivated to do something.

The debate over which type is more effective has been around since forever. 

Each type has inherent features that make it ideal (or not) for every possible motivational situation.

But first, let’s find out what intrinsic motivation is.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within the self. 

Those who are motivated intrinsically participate in activities or behaviors because they genuinely believe in the benefit of doing so.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic – What’s The Difference?

The key difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is where the perceived reward for the person is coming from. 

Intrinsic motivation involves the person realizing that what they are doing is rewarding for its own sake, because they enjoy it or understand that it contributes to their personal growth.

Extrinsic motivation is more of a carrot-and-stick strategy, where positive and negative incentives may be offered to encourage or discourage behaviors. 


  • Outside influence: extrinsic = external
  • Focused on outcome of behavior, over the behavior itself
  • Can be psychological or physical/tangible
  • (Possibly) separate from genuine interest or feeling 


  • Internal – the person understands within themselves why they want to or should do something
  • Focused on the behavior/activity itself, for own sake
  • Mainly psychological
  • Strongly supported by genuine interest or feeling –  better for long-term behavior correction/reinforcement

Extrinsic Motivation: Is It Effective?

Extrinsic motivation has different effects on different kinds of people.

Some are able to fixate positively on their extrinsic reward/s and remain motivated. 

For others, a personal-value approach in which they can see tangible internal benefits (such as enjoyment or fascination) will be more effective. 

Pros And Cons: When To Use Extrinsic Motivation (And When Not To)

The potential effects of extrinsic motivation can be summed up in the following list of pros and cons:


  • Effective in situations with severe consequences, i.e. deciding whether to go to work, or break the law – paychecks and jail time regulate these choices for (most) people.
  • Diverse – there are many possible ways to externally reward and punish someone, so the motivator is unlikely to run out of ideas.
  • Picks up the slack of intrinsic motivation – when people can’t get themselves started or they burn out on long-term activities.
  • Or, when people have no real interest in an activity, or when a highly specific action/behavior is needed for only a short time that they would never otherwise do.


  • Can quickly lose value: The same reward offered over again will not remain rewarding.
  • Overjustification effect: Studies show that when applied in the wrong circumstances, such as when intrinsic motivation is already taking place, the rewarded activity becomes less engaging or valuable to the participant and so demotivation occurs.
  • Gives potentially enjoyable behaviors a transactional nature.
  • Reward can come to be expected every time.

Can Extrinsic Motivation Help In School?

In educational situations, extrinsic motivation can be highly beneficial. 

Students who study because they want good grades and the benefits associated with academic success will probably achieve highly.

However, external rewards shouldn’t replace the fact that learning is fun! Some students push themselves due to passion for the subject/s, which is in some ways even more desirable.

Can Extrinsic Motivation Help With Parenting?

While there have been few conclusive studies done, extrinsic motivation can have some positive effects when used as a parent- but be careful. 

It’s important that a child doesn’t grow to expect external reward, but also learns the value of doing things that may not pay off immediately.

There’s also the risk of overjustification, when you give extrinsic motivation when an activity is already intrinsically valuable. 

This devalues the activity with unnecessary external reward, and can end up demotivating the child.

Can Extrinsic Motivation Help In Sport? 

Extrinsic motivation is hugely helpful in sport. 

While almost all professional athletes profess a love of their chosen game, it can be argued that the same amount also have an immense competitive desire to win.

The thrill of winning motivates sports players and fans alike, alongside the intrinsic factor of loving the game itself. 

A 2006 study also found that extrinsic motivation increases overall participation in sports, as well as the likelihood that a person will continue doing sports in the long term.

In sport, extrinsic motivation plays an essential role, as teams compete for trophies and fame on local and international scales.

Can Extrinsic Motivation Help At Work?

Work is the place where extrinsic motivation is most successfully put into practice. 

A large number of us aren’t excited about going to work each day, and only do so to earn money to support ourselves and our families.

However, some people really do love their jobs! However, for the majority, extrinsic motivation is the main (if not the sole) reason for their decision to go to work. 

Money is one of the most powerful extrinsic motivators.

In Conclusion

Extrinsic motivation as a tool certainly has its uses. 

It is highly situation specific – if you use extrinsic motivation in the wrong situation, you could potentially demotivate someone. 

Yet, in the right situation it can make people do things that they otherwise would never have done!

In work environments, and for people who are severely lacking in get-up-and-go, extrinsic motivation can be the necessary push that puts things into motion. 

It’s valuable in both school and sport, as students and athletes aim for attaining the best results possible.

Significantly different from its intrinsic counterpart, extrinsic motivation is effective in a variety of situations. 

It’s up to the coach, parent, doctor or teacher to discern which situations these are, and apply the method appropriately.

Thanks for reading!

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