Intrinsic Motivation

In his seminal book, Intrinsic Motivation (1975), Edward L. Deci examined the existing research and theory on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and offered the definition and explanation of intrinsic motivation that is still widely cited today.  Intrinsic Motivation first addresses the development of intrinsic motivation and intrinsically motivated behaviour.  Deci believes children are born with “undifferentiated intrinsic motivation” and then, due to “a need for competence and self-determination” develop differentiated (specific) intrinsic motives such as achievement and self-actualization (Deci, 1975, p. 77, 92).  Deci also looks at the effects of extrinsic motivation (for example, rewards such as money or the removal of punishment) on intrinsic motivation.  He argues that these rewards may reduce intrinsic motivation when they are perceived to control behaviour, by changing the locus of causality from internal to external; however, he also notes that rewards can function to inform individuals, which can enhance intrinsic motivation.  According to Deci, whether a reward enhances or decreases intrinsic motivation depends on whether the informational or controlling aspect of that reward is more salient (Deci, 1975, p. 142).  Throughout this book, Deci uses experimental studies to illustrate and explain his concepts, providing the reader with concrete examples of his points.  This book was not the first piece to look at the concept of intrinsic motivation, in fact, Deci’s work was based on the contributions of many other researchers and theorists; however, it was probably the most comprehensive and influential publication on intrinsic motivation at a time when interest in this concept was gaining momentum, and it remains a well-referenced wealth of information on this topic. 

© Rose Atkins 2009