Intrinsic Motivation

Further insights

Intrinsically motivated behaviour is continuous but can be interrupted by extrinsically motivated or affectively motivated states. The first of these refers to rewards and punishments offered externally and the second to the rise of an inner drive, such as hunger, or to an emotion such as the red zone triggering.

In this latter case, we can be intrinsically motivated to do something but then interrupted by an uncalled-for flood of emotion reflecting some anxiety about the future, or some guilt about the past which causes our motivation to drop. The red zone gets in the way of learning.

Because intrinsic motivation is continuous, a student will do their best, if intrinsically motivated and not interrupted. With extrinsic motivation, the drive stops once the reward has been achieved.


Intrinsic motivation is also closely linked to feelings of competence and self-determination. When these feelings go up, intrinsic motivation goes up.

Conversely, when these feelings go down, intrinsic motivation also drops. Negative feedback given verbally will cause these feelings to diminish and failing at a too-hard task (self-feedback) will have an even greater effect. Negative feedback seems to be unfailingly unhelpful.

In terms of positive feedback, completing a challenging task (again, self-feedback) causes intrinsic motivation to rise. Initial studies of verbal positive feedback (conducted in the 1960s) caused intrinsic motivation to rise in males but to fall in females. This led to the insight that a reward such as positive feedback has two elements to it: control and information.

When the salient feature of the feedback is information that allows the recipient to see that their competence and self-determination is growing then intrinsic motivation rises. When the salient feature is control e.g. “that was good but perhaps you should try and do it this way (and the person saying it is perceived to be an authority figure)”, then intrinsic motivation may fall.

It becomes clearer, I think, why the practice of encounter is so effective in motivating students.

A longer version of this article appears on LinkedIn.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan