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Intrinsic motivation is evident when people engage in an activity for its own sake, without some obvious external incentive present. A hobby is a typical example.

It was previously thought that the two types of motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) were additive, and could be combined to produce the highest level of motivation. Some authors differentiate between two forms of intrinsic motivation: one based on enjoyment, the other on obligation. In this context, obligation refers to motivation based on what an individual thinks ought to be done. For instance, a feeling of responsibility for a mission may lead to helping others beyond what is easily observable, rewarded, or fun.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation has been intensely studied by educational psychologists since the 1970s, and numerous studies have found it to be associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students.

There is currently no 'grand unified theory' to explain the origin or elements intrinsic motivation. Most explanations combine elements of Graham Weiner's attribution theory, Bandura's work on self-efficacy and other studies relating to locus of control and goal orientation. Thus it is thought that students are more likely to experience instrinsic motivation if they:

  • Attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (eg. the amount of effort they put in, not 'fixed ability').
  • Believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (eg. the results are not determined by dumb luck.)
  • Are motivated towards deep 'mastery' of a topic, instead of just rote-learning 'performance' to get good grades.

Note that the idea of reward for achievement is absent from this model of intrinsic motivation, since rewards are an extrinsic factor.

This model of intrinsic motivation has emerged from 3 decades of research by hundreds of educationalists and is still evolving.

In knowledge-sharing communities and organizations, people often cite altruistic reasons for their participation, including contributing to a common good, a moral obligation to the group, mentorship or 'giving back'. In work environments, money may provide a more powerful extrinsic factor than the intrinsic motivation provided by an enjoyable workplace.

Telic and Paratelic motivational modes

Psychologist Michael Apter's studies of motivation led him to describe what he called the "telic" (from Greek telos or "goal") and "paratelic" motivational modes, or states. In the telic state, a person is motivated primarily by a particular goal or objective--such as earning payment for work done. In the paratelic mode, a person is motivated primarily by the activity itself--intrinsic motivation.

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