People often ask us here at Badgeville, what’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Isn’t intrinsic motivation always better than extrinsic motivation? If I give someone a badge or some other visible symbol, aren’t I extrinsically motivating them to do something?
Technically the answer is yes. In giving someone a badge or a symbol for doing something, by definition, you are motivating him or her in an extrinsic manner.
That said, when discussing the issue of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in any detail, the issue can be a bit more muddled.
If we look up the definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, we see that:
1. Intrinsic motivation
“Refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable.” 1
2. Extrinsic motivation
“Refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome” 1
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations can be tightly coupled.
An example story: Let’s say that when you were young, your mom told you that you were a great runner. She would praise you for your speed, and told you that you looked like a gazelle, puma, leopard (insert your favorite jungle animal here), when you ran. You liked the praise and continued to run. Throughout high school and college you ran, maybe even on a team which delivered a combination of intrinsic motivators – like social value (being part of the team, status, and success) as well as giving you some extrinsic rewards/symbols (a track jacket which gave you status at school, medals for winning at different meets, etc.). Nowadays you “run for fun” to blow off steam and it makes you feel good. At each point in our story you may have been running for different reasons (intrinsic or extrinsic).
The motivation at the time you are doing something defines whether the action you took was intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. But as mentioned above, the motivations along the way were probably mixed, ending with you running in the last part of the story for intrinsic reasons.
This discussion around motivation delves into an area of psychology called Self Determination Theory (SDT). Self Determination Theory is a popular framework for discussing motivation in psychology. In research, people often use the term ‘regulation’ in conjunction with motivation. Regulation describes the mechanism that guides a person’s action.
Regulation types that go along with the motivation that we are discussing above include:
Definitions and examples break down as follows:
External Regulation – External regulation involves engaging in a behavior only in order to satisfy external pressures or to achieve externally imposed rewards. 2
I run because I get a trophy and a track jacket for the activity.
Introjected Regulation – Introjected regulation involves the internalization of external controls, which are then applied through self-imposed pressures in order to avoid guilt or to maintain self-esteem. 2
I run (or keep running) because I want people to keep thinking I am a good runner.
Identification – Identification involves a conscious acceptance of the behavior as being important in order to achieve personally valued outcomes. 2
I run because I know running is good for me.
Integrated Regulation – Concerns the assimilation of identified regulation so that engaging in the behavior is congruent with ones sense of self. 2
I run because I am a runner, it’s part of who I am.
Intrinsic regulation – Involves taking part in an activity for the enjoyment and satisfaction inherent in engaging in the behavior itself. 2
I enjoy running, it makes me feel good.
So as you can see, there is a vast range of reasons people may or may not do something.
What’s ironic in my opinion is that even in a system where someone uses extrinsic regulation and gives you an external reward (like a badge) for doing something, it’s probable that intrinsic motivation, like feeling socially valued or feeling successful, is also involved driving you to the action. A badge or other visualized gamification element can be seen as either a trigger or reminder of intrinsic motivations.
Bottom line: the definitions and arguments between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations can be confusing and tangled. If the activity you are asking a user to perform triggers intrinsic motivations that evoke positive feelings of growth (Smart, Success, Social Value, Structure) the presence of a badge is really secondary – an extrinsic reminder of all the other motivations.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Deﬁnitions and New Directions Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan