It seems obvious why we would hold intrinsic motivation as an ideal but extrinsic motivation is easier to see, measure, and follow- isn't it? This is the long held argument in workplaces and schools. Extrinsic motivation provides us with measurable results. We want child to do X so we motivate with Y. If child does X then Y worked! I argue that this logic is flawed, though. We are eliminating what makes humans so rich and complex when we look at them in such a simplistic way. Intrinsic motivation is possible because we as humans have innate needs for community, autonomy, and competency. It may not be as easily measurable as extrinsic motivation, but it's certainly easy to speak to anyone and see how when external rewards are the only thing that's offered we are motivated to simply complete simple tasks- nothing more. In fact, often extrinsic motivators put unnecessary pressure on people and make simple tasks complex. Why? Extrinsic motivation dulls creativity. It puts the individual in a box. Complete the task and get the rewards is a box where creativity has trouble thriving.
As humans, we all want to belong. We all want to know how we are different and how we are the same. We all want to know what our role is in any given group or situation. We want to feel needed, productive, and vital. It's an integral part of who we are. We also want autonomy. We want to feel independent and self sufficient. Lastly, we are motivated by competency. When we complete a task it helps us to gain confidence, feel satisfied, and encourages us to work to complete more tasks and increase our knowledge and ability. Here you can read a great post about the ingenuity of preschoolers when the only reward was successfully reaching the cherries they themselves decided to go after.
basic needs. In order to get to the first innate need (community), first physical and safety needs must be met. Basically, it's equal to love and belonging on Maslow's hierarchy. Next, then, would be self esteem. This, for me, is very like autonomy. Once the need of autonomy is met then we can get to the very top of the hierarcshy: competence or self-actualization.
We, of course, now know that the hierarchy is not a simple as that. Just like many things, humans are much more complex than that. Still, it serves as an easy way to look at the importance of intrinsic motivation and of meeting these innate human needs. It also serves as a great way to consider extrinsic rewards in relation to intrinsic rewards. We've already assessed that the top three portions of the hierarchy relate to the intrinsic rewards of community, autonomy, and competency. Where, then, would extrinsic rewards lie? Money, for instance, is an extrinsic reward. Money typically falls under safety. It provides us with security. Let's look at an extrinsic reward that more directly relates to children: the pleasure of the adult. I argue that this also falls under security. It's security that your needs will be taken care of. You do not fear that the adult will not love you as long as you continue along the path they've created for you.
Again, this post is getting quite long and I still have much more I could say! If you are further interested in active participation and intrinsic motivation the links below give some great further information:
An article from Early Childhood Education Journal that explores fostering intrinsic motivation written in 1998.
A great article from Janet Lansbury on connecting with a child and remembering their need for autonomy.
Also if you missed it earlier, I can't recommend this Ted Talks with Dan Pink enough!