The impact of external rewards on motivation: Balancing incentives for success

Photo by Pixabay on

Understanding the complex dance between different forms of motivation is essential for anyone looking to enhance their self-determination and performance.

As someone keen on personal development, you might be familiar with intrinsic motivation, which springs from within, driven by personal interest or enjoyment in the task itself. But what happens when external rewards come into play? While rewards like money, praise, or awards can be powerful motivators, they can also interact with your innate enthusiasm and satisfaction in puzzling ways.

Rewards can certainly incentivise behaviour, but their effect on motivation varies. This phenomenon is delicate; external rewards can sometimes undermine the pure joy and engagement you feel when you pursue activities for their own sake. Other times, they may affirm and even boost your internal drive.

The secret lies in the nature of the reward, the context, and the individual’s mindset. By gaining a deeper insight into the dynamics of motivation, you can strategically utilise external rewards to your advantage, improving not just performance but also your overall contentment and well-being.

Understanding Motivation and Its Types

A person receives a reward, leading to a surge in internal motivation. The impact of external rewards on motivation

When striving to improve the quality of your life and reach your aspirations, it’s crucial to understand motivation and how it drives you. This understanding will aid you in harnessing your inner strengths to thrive in various aspects of life.

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

We’ve covered this elsewhere, but to understand the impact of external rewards on motivation, we need to understand the difference betweenm two main types of motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive to engage in an activity for the inherent satisfaction and pleasure it brings, rather than for some separable outcome. Essentially, if you’re intrinsically motivated, you’re acting upon a passion or an inner desire, such as reading a book for the sheer joy of learning. It is often linked to higher levels of satisfaction and psychological well-being.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is influenced by external factors or rewards. This could range from working to earn money, to undertaking a task to receive praise or avoiding a negative consequence. While extrinsic rewards can be effective, their impact on intrinsic motivation is complex and can sometimes diminish your internal drive, particularly if the rewards are perceived as controlling or if they undermine your sense of autonomy.

External Rewards and Their Influence on Behaviour

golden statuette and stars on yellow background
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

As an expert in motivational psychology, you’re aware that external rewards play a profound role in influencing behaviour. Let’s explore how these rewards impact performance and learning.

Defining External Rewards

External rewards are tangible incentives given to you for completing a task or excelling in an activity. These rewards, such as money, praise, or awards, are come from an outside source. Performance-contingent rewards, a subset of external rewards, are given specifically when you achieve a predefined level of performance. They are crucial in goal-setting frameworks, often used with the idea that they stimulate your motivation and direct your behaviour towards the desired outcome.

Impact on Performance and Learning

When considering performance and learning, the use of external rewards can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can significantly boost your performance by providing a clear, tangible goal. However, some empirical studies (see below) suggest that these rewards may undermine your intrinsic motivation in the long run, especially if they are expected or become the sole focus of your efforts. The key is to use external rewards in a way that supports rather than diminishes your internal drive to learn and succeed.

Experimental Insights

Experimental studies have provided nuanced insights into the impact of external rewards. For instance, research published in the Academy of Management Learning & Education highlighted that small rewards could surprisingly enhance intrinsic motivation under certain conditions. In contrast, other studies suggest that extrinsic rewards can overshadow internal motivation when they become the main reason for engaging in a behaviour, as examined in journal articles.

In essence, the implications of external rewards on your behaviour are intricate, varying according to context, the nature of the task, and your personal values. Deploying this knowledge, you can refine your approach to learning and performance to thrive in your endeavours.

The Overjustification Effect and Its Consequences

The overjustification effect might seem like a myth, but in reality, its consequences on your intrinsic motivation are real. This psychological nuance can undermine your natural drive to perform tasks, once extrinsic rewards come into play.

Understanding the Overjustification Effect

So, what is the overjustification effect?. Picture this: you love painting, doing it simply for the joy it brings. Then, seemingly positive, you start getting paid for your artwork. Initially thrilling, but soon you may find your intrinsic motivation dwindles. Why? The overjustification effect. It indicates how external rewards, when overlaid onto an activity you’re already motivated to do, can lessen your natural drive. The consequence? A detrimental impact: intrinsic interest may be replaced by the reward’s allure, making the activity less about passion and more about gain.

Real-World Examples and Detrimental Effects

Let me provide a concrete example for you. Educational settings can fall prey to this effect when students receive tangible rewards for reading. These rewards might boost short-term engagement, but in the long run, they can undermine the intrinsic pleasure of reading itself. The danger is not a mere myth; when the external reward is removed, so too can the motivation to read for enjoyment.

In your professional life, the consequences can also ring true. Suppose your work begins with a passion for a mission, but over time, that mission becomes overshadowed by bonuses and promotions. Your original drive could diminish, leaving you feeling disenchanted — a negative effect that’s far from what was intended when rewards were introduced.

To sum it up, while rewards can initially seem beneficial, their overuse could be more detrimental than you’d anticipate. Keep this in mind, as you navigate towards your goals, to preserve the joy in what you do for its own sake.

Factors Influencing the Relationship Between Rewards and Motivation

In the complex interplay between rewards and motivation, it’s crucial to understand that motivations aren’t simply switched on by rewards; rather, their efficacy is moderated by numerous factors. Let’s explore how different types of rewards can impact motivation and how individual characteristics and situational nuances also play pivotal roles.

Types of Rewards and Their Impacts

Extrinsic rewards, such as bonuses or promotions, can be powerful tools in driving performance. However, their influence can be double-edged. Research shows that extrinsic rewards can sometimes overshadow intrinsic motivation—the inner drive to perform tasks for their own sake. For example, if you receive a bonus for completing a project, you may focus on the potential reward rather than the salience or purpose of the work itself.

Intrinsic rewards are less tangible but can include feelings of accomplishment and personal growth. They are inherently more aligned with one’s sense of purpose and can sustain motivation over the long-term. An analysis of the mechanisms behind intrinsic motivation reveals that when individuals feel autonomy, competence, and relatedness, they are more likely to thrive.

Individual Differences and Contextual Variables

The relationship between rewards and motivation is also significantly shaped by personal and contextual factors. Individual differences, such as personal values, goals, and personality traits, determine how you perceive and derive satisfaction from both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

Contextual variables, such as the culture of the workplace or the nature of the task at hand, can enhance or diminish the impact of rewards. For instance, a highly competitive environment may make extrinsic rewards more salient, potentially crowding out intrinsic motivations – and the pleasure and purpose to be found in the work.

However, in a supportive setting where there is a balance of control and autonomy, intrinsic motivation can flourish, and extrinsic rewards can serve to amplify the inner drive rather than replace it.

Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation through Strategic Use of External Rewards

When it comes to boosting your internal drive, striking a balance between external incentives and your inherent interests is key. Employing strategies rooted in research can help turn momentary sparks of motivation into a sustained flame.

Balancing Rewards and Intrinsic Interest

When you’re aiming to amplify your intrinsic motivation, consider the interplay between external rewards and your inherent interest in an activity. Payment, whether in the form of a performance-contingent payment or a participation fee, can influence your level of engagement. For instance, a performance-based payment might spur increased level of performance on tasks that don’t naturally intrigue you. However, the strategic use of such rewards can meaningfully complement your inherent interests.

Gneezy and Rustichini’s research elucidates that while external rewards can boost task motivation temporarily, they could potentially undermine your free-choice intrinsic motivation if not carefully managed. But, an external incentive can transition into an internal one, especially when it aligns with your interests. This delicate balance can turn a routine task into a personal challenge that ignites your curiosity and satisfies the human need for recognition and praise.

Evidence-Based Approaches

Employing evidence-based approaches to enhance intrinsic motivation through external rewards necessitates an understanding of what makes these rewards work. When you receive praise aimed at acknowledging your competence in a skill or project, it can validate your internal sense of achievement and competence. This recognition builds an emotional connection to the task at hand, transforming it into a more personally meaningful experience.

External reward contingencies play a crucial role. The expectation of a reward can foster competition, but ensure it’s a healthy form, one that promotes growth rather than stress. Subtle alterations in reward delivery, such as increasing the challenge or making a competitive element cooperative, can stoke an enduring internal drive, reinforcing your task motivation far beyond the initial promise of an external reward.

Frequently Asked Questions

To assist you in enhancing the balance between your intrinsic motivation and the influence of external rewards, below are some common enquiries with clear, evidence-based responses aimed at supporting your pursuit of a more self-determined life.

How do monetary incentives influence an individual’s intrinsic motivation for a task?

Monetary incentives can increase your immediate engagement with a task, yet multiple studies suggest they may diminish your intrinsic motivation if these incentives become the main reason for undertaking the activity.

Can the presence of tangible rewards diminish the quality of one’s internal drive?

Indeed, there’s evidence implying that tangible rewards might undermine intrinsic motivation, especially when those rewards are expected and replace personal interest as the primary driver for your engagement.

In what ways may personal satisfaction and enjoyment be affected by extrinsic reward systems?

While an extrinsic reward system can spur initial interest in activities, research shows that it can also reduce the feeling of personal satisfaction and enjoyment derived from the task itself when the reward is no longer present.

What are the key differences in outcomes between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in a professional context?

In a professional setting, intrinsic motivators typically lead to enriched job satisfaction and better overall performance, whereas reliance on extrinsic motivators like bonuses can lead to a short-term increase in productivity but may not sustain long-term engagement.

How might the integration of external incentives shape long-term motivational patterns?

External incentives can create a dependency that may require continual reinforcement to maintain motivation, potentially leading to less persistence when those incentives are removed or become less attractive over time.

What psychological theories support the relationship between extrinsic rewards and the alteration of intrinsic motivation?

Self-Determination Theory and Cognitive Evaluation Theory are key psychological frameworks that explain how external rewards can have nuanced effects on shaping intrinsic motivation. They suggest that the context and perceived autonomy play significant roles in this dynamic.

Do you feel like you just can't win?Free download: the 10 main reasons you never reach you goals - and what you can do about it

Download the ebook and receive our regular newsletter: the Goal Machine

Leave a comment