What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is a concept described by psychologists as the motivation that comes from a person to perform a task or goal. Intrinsically motivated people are not influenced by external rewards or punishments for their work, such as getting paid for doing a job or getting a poor grade on a school assignment. Intrinsically motivated people choose to perform tasks because of the inherent pleasure or sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. Countless studies have shown that children and adults who develop intrinsic motivation are much more likely to be successful in projects and long-term goals than those who are motivated by external factors.

Many aspects of society revolve around extrinsic motivation. Students at the school, for example, are graded on the quality of their work, facing threats or punishment when they do not perform well, and rewards when they do succeed. Athletes commonly receive trophies and crowd approval when they perform well, and a company's employees may try to earn a bonus for completing their work. While external motivators can be effective in the short term, they generally lose meaning over time.

It is common for a person who wants to achieve a goal to simply get a reward or avoid punishment by putting in less effort than a person who wants to succeed for the sake of internal satisfaction. An example of the different outcomes of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can be seen in police officers. An extrinsically motivated police officer might do her job to earn a good salary and gain recognition from the community and people in the police force. However, an intrinsically motivated officer has a strong and sincere desire to help others and maintain a safe and healthy society. By not seeking rewards or recognition, the intrinsically motivated officer is likely to work harder and take on more responsibility than the individual motivated by external influences.

Professional psychologists have devoted thousands of hours of research to determining the best ways to develop intrinsic motivation in people, especially children. They have identified several ways to encourage young people to find personal meaning in their schoolwork and homework. To reap the benefits of intrinsic motivation, people need to focus their efforts on topics and goals that they find interesting. Tasks must be fully understood in terms of cause and effect, real-life usefulness, and achievability. People who can realize their potential and work toward internally meaningful goals can generally enjoy long-term success and satisfaction.

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