Intrinsic Motivation Theories

The theories described in this section deal with the distinction when intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. When individuals are intrinsically motivated they do activities either because they enjoy doing them or because they want to do them. When extrinsically motivated, individuals do activities for instrumental or other reasons, such as receiving a reward.

Self-Determination Theory

Two basic assumptions about behavior underlie Deci and Ryan's self-determination theory: (1) the assumption that humans are motivated to maintain an optimal level of stimulation, and (2) the assumption that basic needs for competence and self-determination underlie intrinsically motivated behavior. They argued that intrinsic motivation is maintained only when actors feels competent and self-determined. Evidence that intrinsic motivation is reduced by the use of external control and negative competence feedback supports this hypothesis (see Deci and Ryan, 1985; Gottfried & Gottfried, 2004).

Deci and Ryan (1985) also argued, however, that the basic needs for competence and self-determination play a role in more extrinsically motivated behavior. Consider, for example, a student who consciously and without any external pressure selects a specific major because it will help him earn a lot of money. This student is guided by his basic needs for competence and self-determination but his choice of major is based on reasons totally extrinsic to the major itself. Finally, Deci and Ryan (1985) postulated that a basic need for interpersonal relatedness explains why people turn external goals into internal goals through internalization.

Individual Difference Theories of Intrinsic Motivation

Until recently, intrinsic motivation researchers like Deci and Ryan and Csikszentmihalyi have dealt with conditions, components, and consequences of intrinsic motivation without making a distinction between intrinsic motivation as a state versus intrinsic motivation as a trait-like characteristic. However, interest in trait-like individual differences in intrinsic motivation is growing particularly among educational and sport psychologists (see Amabile et al., 1994; Gottfried, 1990; Harter, 1998; Nicholls, 1989; Schiefele, 1991). These researchers define this enduring intrinsic motivational orientation in terms of three components: (1) preference for hard or challenging tasks, (2) learning that is driven by curiosity or interest, and (3) striving for competence and mastery. The second component is most central to the idea of intrinsic motivation. Both preference for hard tasks and striving for competence can be linked to either extrinsic or more general need-achievement motivation. Nonetheless, empirical findings suggest that the three components are highly correlated. In addition, evidence suggests that high levels of trait-like intrinsic motivation facilitate self-esteem (Ryan, Connell & Deci, 1985), mastery-oriented coping with failure (Dweck, 1999), high academic achievement (Benware & Deci, 1984; Schiefele & Schreyer, 1994), and use of appropriate learning strategies (Schiefele & Schreyer, 1994).

Developmental Changes in Intrinsic Motivation

Researchers in both Europe and the United States have found that mean levels of intrinsic motivation decline over the elementary school years (Gottfried et al., 2001; Harter, 1998; Helmke, 1993). The continuity or stability of intrinsic motivation, however, increases over the elementary and secondary school years. Mean levels of intrinsic motivation for particular school subjects also decline as children make the transition from elementary to middle school (see Eccles et al., 1993). As noted earlier, these declines seem directly linked to changes in the school environments that often coincide with these school transitions (Eccles et al., 1993; Midgley, 2002). Such changes in motivation likely contribute to the declines in school engagement often found during the early adolescent years.

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