Lindfield Learning Village

Profiles of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: A person-centered approach to motivation and achievement in middle school

The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations is one of long-standing interest in education. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in a task for its own inherent rewards whereas extrinsic motivation refers to engaging in a task in order to attain some separable outcome—such as approval from authority figures or special privileges in the classroom. Researchers have often operationalized these two constructs as mutually exclusive, such that an individual high in intrinsic motivation would necessarily be low in extrinsic motivation. However, recent studies suggest that these two types of motivation can, in fact, coexist and perhaps even work together to motivate task engagement (see Harter 1981; Gillet et al. 2009; Lepper et al. 2005; Ryan et al. 1995). An essential direction for research, then, is to identify naturally-occurring combinations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and their academic consequences. For instance, is it optimal for students to have high levels of both types of motivation, or are they better served by a pattern of high intrinsic motivation coupled with low extrinsic motivation? Understanding how different types of motivation may operate in tandem is a critical issue not only for motivational theorists but also practitioners, who must respond to the complexities of individual students.