When a person engages in an activity because they are interested in and enjoy the activity (e.g., they perform the activity for the sake of doing it—for the enjoyment, fun or pleasure) and not because the activity will produce a reward or result in the avoidance of a negative consequence.
Intrinsic motivation describes an individual who engages in an activity because they are interested in and enjoy the activity (e.g., they perform the activity for the sake of doing it—for the enjoyment, fun, or pleasure) and not because the activity will produce a reward or result in the avoidance of a negative consequence (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Grolnick, Gurland, Jacob, & Decourcey, 2002; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002a; Snow et al., 1996; Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2003). The converse (extrinsic motivation) is present when an individual engages in an activity for other (e.g., reward) or instrumental reasons (e.g., means to an end). Intrinsic motivation “energizes important growth- fostering behaviors, such as seeking out challenges, exercising skills, and pursuing one’s interests (Deci & Ryan, 1985)” (Reeve, Nix, & Hamm, 2003, p. 375). As such, intrinsic motivation is frequently mentioned as a causal contributor to self-determination. High intrinsic motivation orientation is often considered as an indicator of the highest levels of self- determination (d'Ailly, 2003; Reeve et al., 2003; Standage et al., 2003).
Early motivation research suggested that intrinsic motivation was not trait-like in nature, but rather, was situation-specific and alterable (Harter, 1981). This “state” interpretation of intrinsic motivation suggests that a student’s intrinsic motivation is amenable to environmental manipulation. Researchers are now treating intrinsic motivation as less of a situation-specific state and more of a trait-like characteristic (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). The highly correlated components of the trait-intrinsic motivation (as would be described in an academic context) are: (a) academic learning driven by curiosity and interest; (b) a preference for hard or challenging academic tasks; and (c) a striving for competence and independent mastery (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Harter, 1981; Newman, 2000). Of the 3 characteristics, the first (curiosity- driven learning) is the core concept of intrinsic motivation.
Educational Implications: The intrinsic motivation literature (Covington & Dray, 2002; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Gresham &Elliott, 1984; Grolnick et al., 2002; Newman, 2000; Wehmeyer, 1996; Wehmeyer, 1999) suggests the following general implications:
Intrinsic motivation has been argued to be of particular salience for students with disabilities given that, historically, the special education delivery service model has been grounded primarily in efforts to identify and remediate student deficits.
High levels of trait-like intrinsic motivation have been associated with a variety of positive student behaviors and educational outcomes. It is hypothesized that high intrinsic motivation helps students care about their learning, which subsequently increases their striving towards high achievement. High intrinsic motivation has also been associated with positive emotional experiences, higher levels of cognitive engagement, lower levels of anxiety, higher perceptions of competence, and a higher use of a variety of positive self- regulatory behaviors (e.g., adaptive help-seeking, learning strategies, meta-cognitive strategies). Clearly, students low in intrinsic motivation are at risk for educational failure.
According to stage-environment fit theory, when students enter a developmental stage characterized by a greater need for autonomy (e.g., pre-adolescence), the typical educational environment actually reduces opportunities for self-initiated behavior and independent thinking vis-à-vis a greater emphasis on external (e.g., teacher) control. The result can be a reduction in subject matter interest and intrinsic motivation. A logical extension is that education/learning environments should strive to provide the best possible “fit” between a student's learning environment and their developmental and level of intrinsic motivation.
According to stage-environment fit theory and research, the use of normative grading (an emphasis on tangible rewards that are limited in quantity), during a time when a student is entering a stage characterized by a need for autonomy, may produce increased social comparison and feelings of competitiveness. The net result is a hypothesized reduction in intrinsic motivation.
Absolute evaluation or grading standards, which increase the explicit link between degree of expended effort and achievement rewards, tend to increase a student’s sense of intrinsic motivation. Merit-based grading systems are postulated to be more desirable when a student transitions into a stage characterized by the need for more autonomy and independence.
Additional learning environment characteristics associated with higher levels of intrinsic motivation include (Grolnick et al., 2002):
- Learning tasks should be optimally challenging—“just above the current level of ability” (Grolnick, 2002, p. 155).
- Learning should minimize excessive use of “rewards” which tend to shift the focus from an internal to external cause of behavior.
- Learning environments that provide for autonomy, involvement, and support in a non-controlling manner (in contrast to an environment with strong external controls) are associated with students who display greater intrinsic motivation, which in turn influences the development of more self-regulated learning via internalization.
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