Extrinsic motivation is any behavior that is driven by an external reward. If you are motivated by a good paycheck, fame, praise from family or friends, or even the grades you earn at school, then this process applies to you. It is any type of motivation which arises from the external aspects of life for an individual. That is the opposite of intrinsic motivation, which originates from inside each person.
Every action that we take in life has either extrinsic or intrinsic motivation to it. Even the act of reading this content right now comes from a motivational factor in either category. Are you trying to learn the advantages and disadvantages of extrinsic motivation so that you can get a better grade in your class? Or are you studying this resource because of your interest in learning more about how humans behave?
When there is extrinsic motivation involved in an action, then people will stay motivated to continue performing it even though the task itself may offer no reward.
List of the Advantages of Extrinsic Motivation
1. This motivation can influence individuals or groups and their productivity levels.
When there are extrinsic incentives in place for individuals or teams, then everyone can receive motivation through the same process to increase their productivity. Any element of existence can improve when there are rewards in place for specific behaviors. You can create a better learning environment for the classroom, improve skill-based vocations, and instill a need for consistency in the completed tasks.
“Extrinsic motivation can exert a powerful influence on human behavior,” writes Kendra Cherry for Verywell Mind, “but as research on the overjustification effect shows, it has its limits. [It] is not a bad thing. External rewards can be [a] useful and effective tool for getting people to stay motivated and on task.”
2. Extrinsic motivation can lead to individual benefits.
When there are specific motivational factors that apply at the individual level, then it can inspire people to behave in specific ways. This change or improvement in specific processes would not occur if the presence of an external reward were not available.
Someone might not want to find employment, but the external factor of earning a paycheck to have a home, vehicle, and food on the table can motivate that person to work harder to ensure that their needs can continue to be met.
“Extrinsic value is the value objects, empirical things, have to the measure that they meet the demands of belonging to a case as determined by the intension of an analytic concept,” wrote John William Davis.
3. It creates a desire to chase after goals or dreams.
Having goals is a healthy part of the human experience. When there is something you can work toward, then your efforts have meaning. Life is ultimately a series of choices that we make every day, even if we don’t consciously ask ourselves specific questions that guide our lives all of the time.
If you wake up in the morning and decide not to file for divorce, then your decision offers extrinsic rewards which outweigh what would happen otherwise. When you make it into work each morning even if you hate your job, then the value of what you earn outweighs the contempt you feel. Following a path that leads you to a final goal or dream creates a journey through life that is meaningful, even if there are a few regrets that you might experience along the way.
4. Extrinsic motivation creates the foundation for survival.
We are always working for extrinsic rewards in our own way each day. We need to have these external benefits for our very survival. There are three core needs that people must have in life: food, water, and shelter. Clothing is nice to have as well. The reasons why we pursue them and how we do it might vary, but the desire to survive is the core driving factor in the choices that we make.
Even if you decide to stay away from formal employment, tending a garden every day creates an extrinsic reward that provides food. You can build a shelter out in the woods through your labor because of extrinsic motivation. We often look at this concept for the small rewards in life, like feeling great about our job or being more productive, but it also applies to the very basics of life.
5. The rewards can be tangible or psychological and still be beneficial.
Extrinsic motivation is defined as our choice to engage in a specific activity so that a gain is experienced somehow in life. Money and trophies are important tangible rewards that can serve as motivation factors, but praise and public acclaim can serve as a reward too. Parents aren’t going to give a child a trophy every time they decide to clean their room, might they might offer positive praise that could create motivation. Even an actor might take on a role not because it pays a lot, but because it could help them to receive more attention to the work that they’re doing.
Even if the rewards only provide a short burst of activity, they feelings they provide can turn an external reward into an internal one. When someone offers praise for a job well done, the pride that this can inspire can lead to similar outcomes in the future for similar tasks.
6. It is a highly effective method of increasing motivation.
This type of motivation is highly effective at producing results. We often use multiple layers of extrinsic motivation every day, whether that means shopping at a specific store to collect loyalty points or a credit card to collect miles so that you can take a vacation later in the year. Any time we choose a specific behavior to collect an external reward, then this is the process that we follow.
As long as the individual or group continues to see value in the work, then this motivation will continue to be present. If there are different rewards available after each project, there can be ongoing interest in the processes because different needs are being met at each conclusion point.
7. Extrinsic rewards can help people to save money.
Saving money is just as motivational for people to consider as earning it when making choices throughout the day. If you clip coupons or search for promo codes online before making a purchase, then you are taking advantage of this specific benefit. You are also using extrinsic value when you shop the clearance rack at a store, complete tasks to avoid judgment, or earn a degree so that you can have a bigger paycheck to stash some cash in the bank. Whenever your motivation comes from the outside to complete a task, then you are experiencing this process in some way.
List of the Disadvantages of Extrinsic Motivation
1. External rewards are the ones that typically don’t last for a lifetime.
When people start reflecting on the choices that they made in life, those who spent their time chasing after external rewards often regret many of the decisions they made. If you are striving for things that involve money or possessions, then these items are fleeting. It is the memories that you make with your families and friends that become the most-prized elements of life as the years go by, which is something that you can’t always find when pursuing the next great opportunity.
If you experience this disadvantage of extrinsic rewards, then it could interfere with your happiness in the future – even if you are satisfied with where you are currently at in life right now. As W. Edwards Deming, author of The New Economics for Industry, Government, and Education once said, “Monetary rewards are not a substitute for intrinsic motivation.”
2. It can work to repress the intrinsic motivations people have in life.
There are some extrinsic rewards that can reduce or remove the internal motivations that people have for doing what they do each day. If your focus is on earning a paycheck, then you might report each day to a job that you hate because you feel like the ongoing rewards are worth the sacrifice. When you compare that perspective with one where an individual gets to work in a field in which they are consistently passionate and they get a paycheck, then both sets of rewards become possible in their life.
“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity,” writes Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive. “Controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity. For artists, inventors, scientists, and children, intrinsic motivation (the drive to do something) because it is interesting, challenging, or absorbing is essential for high levels of creativity.”
3. Extrinsic motivation is often a finite process.
If someone knows that they will receive a reward no matter what they do, then there is zero motivation to work harder. Knowing that benefits are present can make it so that some individuals stop caring about what they do. Even taking a reward away may not be enough motivation to continue pressing forward if the value of it is less than the benefits of not working in the first place.
That’s why extrinsic motivation is rarely sustainable over long periods of time. Although you always need food and water access and will work for it, there are some jobs where no one could pay you enough money to take on that responsibility. Those who provide this motivational factor must ensure that the value proposition can increase to continue encouraging productivity. That’s one of the reasons why raises are offered by companies.
4. It follows a course of diminishing returns.
If you continue to receive the same reward without variation, then the extrinsic motivational factors will begin to lose their influence in a person’s life. People will only start to work harder, with better quality, or more consistency when they continue to see increases in the rewards which are available.
When there are larger rewards available for people to enjoy, then there is more motivation to work harder for it. How much of a difference would it make if your boss decided to give you a $1 million raise to meet a specific quota instead of a $1,000 increase to your salary? You must keep scaling the extrinsic rewards upward to continue having the same levels of success. If you continue to offer the same benefit each time, then every repetition of the cycle will create a lesser outcome.
Teresa Amabile, who is a Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, puts it this way. “Most people aren’t anywhere near to realizing their creative potential, in part because they’re laboring in environments that impede intrinsic motivation.”
5. Rewards can make the activities less enjoyable for some individuals.
When there are no internal motivations that can provide rewards for the work being done, then the extrinsic motivational factors will eventually lose their influence in a person’s life. People will lose their desire to keep working when the continuous provision of a reward occurs. The only exception to this disadvantage occurs when the activities help to supply survival needs. If a person’s perspectives, desires, or intrinsic rewards change, then anything that could come from the external world will no longer hold the same amount of value.
6. There is no passion created through extrinsic value.
When you must rely on extrinsic value to ensure that workers are being productive consistently, then you are not creating passion. You’re guaranteeing that the individuals or teams involved are going to do the bare minimum to succeed so that the reward will appear. That is why this process becomes ineffective over time. The work will become boring over time, which means people will start to abandon the process because the intrinsic rewards of leaving to a different task outweigh the current external benefits being offered.
Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, describes this disadvantage in a unique way. “Rewards usually improve performance only at extremely simple – indeed, mindless – tasks, and even then, they improve only quantitative performance.”
7. It can cause people and teams to have unrealistic expectations of the future.
When you must begin to rely on extrinsic motivation as a way to get people or teams to work for you, then you’re setting a dangerous precedent with your efforts. If someone starts expecting to receive a reward for everything that they do, then they will refuse to be involved with a project until you promise something of value to them. It is a process which causes people to actively avoid tasks, even if it could help them to develop their career or personal life, because they do not see an immediate benefit to the possible sacrifices they would make.
8. You can offer someone too much extrinsic value at times.
There are times when offering a reward can increase a person’s motivation. Researchers have also discovered that providing an excessive reward can decrease a person’s passion or desire to be active. It creates an environment of suspicion because the offer seems too good to be true. The person or team will then look for reasons why others might not want to take on the task instead of getting to work on what needs to get done.
The rewards must apply directly to the performance of a specific behavior for them to be effective. This process can then introduce internal motivators to be active, especially if it works to establish essential skills. It is even possible to remove extrinsic rewards over time if intrinsic ones can take over. That’s why the best offers tend to be smaller benefits that create an immediate and positive impact.
Verdict on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Extrinsic Value
The external rewards that happen in life make us feel good, especially if they come from an unexpected source. You can motivate people to achieve excellence with encouraging words, money, celebrity status, and much more. Even something as small as a trophy for personal recognition can inspire someone to continue moving on to bigger and better things.
“Motivation is a fire from within,” Stephen R. Covey once advised. “If someone tries to light that fire for you, the chances are it will burn very briefly.”
Extrinsic value can only provide consistency or increases in productivity when people experience a desire to have those rewards. If that passion for “compensation” disappears, then it no longer becomes a motivational tool. That is why the providers of these rewards must always be adapting to perspective changes to continue support those who enjoy the presence of this tool.
The advantages and disadvantages of extrinsic value can motivate people to new heights, but they can also miss the mark and stop individuals from performing at all. That is why it is essential to personalize this process to each person or group so that they can receive rewards that are reflective of the work that they are doing.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.