Management implications of the interaction

between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic rewards


David Beswick
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University
of Melbourne

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Original seminar presentation November 2002, Updated 14 January 2003, 2 November 2004, 16 February 2007.

Published 2009: Beswick, D. G. Management implications of the interaction between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic motivation. R. Raj. Punagutta, Hyderabad, India, Icfai University Press: 130-159.

For an earlier paper see An Introduction to the Study of Curiosity
and for further development see From Curiosity to Identity.

This paper is the basis for Chapter 3 of Cognitive motivation: From curiosity to identity, purpose and meaning.


Mangers generally, and anyone formally or informally responsible for oversight of others who are engaged in work or learning tasks, will be aware that some people are participating more out of interest in the task than others are. Others gain their satisfaction principally out the way in which their performance on the task leads to rewards like pay or status or good grades in a course. But typically there is a mixture of motives for which a range of different incentives is relevant. Most people will find at least some satisfaction in simply doing the work. They might say, for example, that they found it "interesting". For most people there is also some satisfaction in rewards which are contingent upon performance in the task. The balance of these intrinsic and extrinsic sources of satisfaction varies from one person to another and between different situations. Some people indeed are highly motivated by both intrinsic interest and extrinsic rewards: I found this for example among medical students.


Managers are usually aware to some extent of the ways in which both intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation affect performance and work satisfaction, but there are many complexities in how these different types of motivations and their relevant rewards affect behaviour. One of the most subtle and demanding complexities has been found to occur when extrinsic rewards are given for performance in a task which would otherwise have been undertaken purely out of interest. But effects of the interaction are not simple and have been a subject of extensive debate in recent years. How extrinsic rewards affect intrinsic motivation obviously has many implications for the management of incentives for work and study where both extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation are very often found together.


Extrinsic rewards have been found to reduce intrinsic motivation, but not in all circumstances. The majority of published research has dealt with the effect on motivation rather then performance, but consequent effects can be evident in performance, and there are many theoretical predictions supported at least in part by empirical findings. When people are intrinsically motivated they tend be more aware of a wide range of range of phenomena, while giving careful attention to complexities, inconsistencies, novel events and unexpected possibilities. They need time and freedom to make choices, to gather and process information, and have an appreciation of well finished and integrated products, all of which may lead to a greater depth of learning and more creative output. Extrinsic rewards tend to focus attention more narrowly and to shorten time perspectives, which may result in more efficient production of predefined or standardised products. Job satisfaction and long term commitment to a task may also be affected.


By intrinsic motivation we mean a process of arousal and satisfaction in which the rewards come from carrying out an activity rather from a result of the activity. We speak of the rewards being intrinsic to a task rather than the task being a means to an end that is rewarded or satisfying. By contrast, one might work hard at a task in order to eat or gain social approval. Such work, undertaken as a means to an end, is typically deficit motivated behaviour, in which there is a reward as a consequence of effort to reach a goal where the deficit is reduced. Intrinsic motivation tends more to be appetitive, new information arousing a slight interest leading to an appetite for more.


The term “intrinsic” sometimes also occurs with a different connotation in reference to incentives which are consistent with personal qualities, intentions and values. Satisfaction gained from such incentives may be seen as intrinsic to the person rather than to the task. It can be the case that behaviour such as undertaking a scientific research project can assist in the satisfaction of personal development goals while it is also intrinsically rewarding in itself. The micro sense of intrinsic interest in the task is the primary meaning, but satisfaction intrinsic to the person in the macro sense carries some of the same meaning, especially in regard to the processes of integration which will be considered further below. However, while the two can work together, intrinsic motivation in the primary sense is vulnerable to being inhibited by the use of extrinsic rewards in ways which do not give the secondary type of intrinsic satisfaction but are experienced as alien to the person. The work of several investigators in recent years points to the importance of the secondary or macro type of intrinsic satisfaction from extrinsic rewards as the clue to managing the effects of extrinsic rewards in ways which do not inhibit the operation of intrinsic motivation for engagement in the task. This paper is concerned with the basic processes that underlie that interaction and its practical consequences.


The original report of an experiment which led to many others showing that extrinsic rewards, like pay and status, when associated with outcomes of interesting tasks tend to suppress the operation of intrinsic motivation, was published by Deci in 1971 (Deci 1975).  He found that if people are paid to do something they would otherwise have done out of interest they will be less likely to do it in future without being paid. Evidence of reduced motivation was found in their being less likely to return to the task when free to do so. There has been some controversy in the literature in the past decade concerning the generality of this effect, which is taken up in the final section of this paper in reference to recently published meta-analyses. It is clear that the effect in not universal. It can be reduced, and it may be absent in some conditions, but it is quite common. It poses serious problems for managers in education and other fields in which narrowness of purpose and concentration on short term results are counter-productive.


In this paper I hope to give at least an introduction to some of the ways in which an understanding of the cognitive and motivational processes which lead to the suppressing effect can suggest principles of effective management for complex systems. I think there is a general approach to effective management of systems of learning and intellectual achievement and for productive work in which originality plays an important part. A key element in the solution seems to be related to the secondary kind of intrinsic motivation mentioned above. This macro type needs to be understood in greater depth. I will first give a more detailed exposition of how intrinsic motivation works at the micro level of the task and then apply it to the macro level of personal development. I suggest that the same principles apply at the macro level, in the function of rewards which have a meaning that is intrinsic to the self; so that in the management of incentives for academic work, for example, which has a large component of intrinsic interest in the task, extrinsic rewards need to be integrated with aspects of personal development, autonomy, integrity and self direction if the extrinsic incentives like pay and status are not to inhibit the micro level of intrinsically motivated behaviour in teaching and research. The same applies to many other types of work including a range of business activities in which creativity is important.


On her theme of “Let creativity be its own reward” Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile said in an interview (Perry and Amabile 1999) on her psychological and applied business studies of creativity and intrinsic motivation over twenty years:-


People are at their most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself and not by external pressures or incentives. Consider, for example, the experience of a firm I've been studying in the last few months, called E Ink, which is developing a revolutionary electronic-display technology that enables retailers to change any sign in their store in a matter of minutes. The signs are very light and flexible and do not require electricity after the message has been changed. The company is creating something completely different, while simultaneously addressing an enormous technical and marketing challenge. Every person I've talked to – from the CEO right through to the people doing the day-to-day technical work — is excited by the opportunity before them. Each is intrinsically motivated; that is, they find rewards in the challenge of the work itself.


In order for creativity to flourish, people must be allowed to have a degree of freedom to choose their approaches to their work, to fail occasionally without ridicule or punishment, to stretch their horizons in terms of working with others who will share their knowledge, and to feel comfortable knowing that the organization supports their work with the requisite resources. Otherwise, they will keep trying the safe, narrow, repetitive approaches to solving problems.


Elsewhere (Amabile 1998; Amabile 1999) she wrote:-


There is abundant evidence of strong intrinsic motivation in the stories of widely recognized creative people. When asked what makes the difference between creative scientists and those who are less creative, the Nobel-prizewinning physicist Arthur Schawlow said, "The labor-of-love aspect is important. The most successful scientists often are not the most talented, but the ones who are just impelled by curiosity. They've got to know what the answer is." Albert Einstein talked about intrinsic motivation as "the enjoyment of seeing and searching."


These quotes from some of Amabile’s  popular presentations rely upon extensive published research, (Amabile 1983a; Amabile 1996; Amabile 1998)


The cognitive process theory of curiosity


Amongst the many concepts that have been introduced in discussions of the issue over the past thirty to forty years, the specific example of curiosity is central to the more general concept of intrinsic motivation. It is not the only type of intrinsic motivation. There are aspects of achievement motivation, especially those concerned with unique achievements, for example, which share some of the same qualities; and the more general “effectence motivation” described by White (White 1959; White 1961) which is evident in the sheer joy of being able do something, especially a playful activity. But curiosity, and particularly its associated sense of wonder, which is a key component of learning at all levels of education, is the purest instance of intrinsic motivation at the micro level of engagement in those work and learning tasks where rewards for engaging in a task come from the task itself rather than from its being a means to an end. Before returning to the more practical implications for management of different types of incentives I would like to provide some more detail of a conceptual framework for understanding the problem. I am introducing first a particular approach to the study of curiosity, because I think that a further elaboration of this cognitive theory will help later to make sense of the complex findings and other theories regarding effective functioning and maintenance of intrinsic motivation.


Many investigators have approached the study of curiosity through the study of individual differences, and my cognitive process theory of curiosity (Beswick 1965; Beswick 1971) was developed in such studies of curiosity as a trait varying between people and reasonably consistent for individuals across situations. But later work treated it as both a consistent trait and a momentary state, following the earlier models for assessment of anxiety. Several authors, including especially Spielberger (Spielberger, Peters et al. 1976; Spielberger and Starr 1994), and here at Melbourne, Naylor (Naylor 1981), have developed measures and studied the dimensionality of curiosity as both a trait and a state. Some measures curiosity or a somewhat broader concept may be designated “intrinsic motivation” (Beswick 1974; Amabile, Hill et al. 1994). In Spielberger’s work it was in conjunction with trait and state measures of anxiety. While curiosity is a state which is commonly experienced at least occasionally by all people, and there are some events which arouse curiosity in almost everyone, it is also a trait which is much more typical of some people than of others. So a magician might by clever manipulation produce unexpected events which arouse curiosity, with people wondering, "Where did that come from", and "How did he do it?" Such wondering illustrates the state of curiosity. The trait, which varies between people, is seen in the way that some people will typically focus attention on events which they see as strange or peculiar, and then perhaps investigate them further, while others will pass them by with little interest. Some people are more likely than others to be in situations where strange or novel events occur, as well as being more likely to focus attention on small discrepancies from what is expected which happen to occur wherever they are. Some might people might go out looking for new or strange things. For some people curiosity can be evident in attention to a great variety of different stimuli without focussing for long on any of them, while for others it is found more typically in careful attention to specific phenomena. Berlyne (Berlyne 1960), for example, described specific and diversive types of curiosity, and Ainley and others have distinguished between breadth and depth factors in curiosity (Ainley 1987). Curiosity is a term that refers to quite a wide range of phenomena (Loewenstein 1994; Kashdan 2004).


According the cognitive process theory, which is concerned mainly with the depth type of curiosity, consistent sensitivity to small discrepancies against an ordered background is due to two contrasting facets of curiosity as a trait: openness to novel stimuli and a concern for orderliness. When those two personal qualities are measured separately from curiosity we find that they are negatively correlated, as one would expect from common sense. That is, people who readily accept and seek out novel, strange or unusual things, who are in general stimulus seeking, are typically not concerned with having everything in its proper place or with orderliness in general. Vice versa, people who value orderliness may not as often seek novel or strange things. (I use “stimulus seeking” here in a more general sense than the specific variable in Zuckerman's Stimulus Seeking Scale (Zuckerman 1975) which is loaded with items on high risk physical activities. Openness to experience has been recognised in recent years as a general personality factor, especially in the commonly used five-factor model. Some form of orderliness is also commonly represented in multi-factor models of personality.) But, although the two qualities of orderliness and openness tend to be opposed and not often found together in great strength, it turns out that highly curious people tend to have both these contrasting characteristics, they both seek novelty and value orderliness. If they had either one alone, that is if they sought novelty without care for order, or they disregarded novel stimuli while guarding their well ordered map of the world, they would experience few conceptual conflicts. They would be less aware of gaps and discrepancies. Whereas if they tried to be both open to novelty and seek order they would experience many conflicts, and they would tend to be aroused by inconsistencies and incompleteness. The result then of combining openness with orderliness is a propensity for that careful attention which is characteristic of the depth type of curiosity. When Ainley (Zuckerman 1975; Ainley 1985; Ainley 1987) distinguished between breadth and depth types of curiosity, she found that my questionnaire measure of curiosity or intrinsic motivation (Beswick 1974) correlated highly with her depth factor, while it was unrelated to the breadth factor.


There are individual differences not only in the probability and the intensity of being aroused, but also in how people deal with conceptual conflicts and gaps in knowledge when they are experienced. Before going a little into the dynamics of the process there is another prior consideration. In the past I have seen curiosity as a process of creating, maintaining and resolving conceptual conflicts, but I have been convinced in reviewing more recent work that one must also speak in terms of gaps in knowledge, understanding or perceptions and their effects. The common factor seems to be a basic tendency to seek an integrated understanding or map of the world. Conflicts and gaps give rise to an effort to produce a new conceived or perceived order of things in a new whole or gestalt that accounts for or makes sense of a discrepancy. I have not yet fully worked through the implications of this more highly generalised conception. In what follows I am presenting the theory in the previous terms of how people deal with conceptual conflict, but similar processes should apply in regard to gaps in knowledge. The more general concept may be a sense of incompleteness.


The conflict arises from a lack of fit between an incoming signal or stimulus and a cognitive map or category system which represents the world from past experience. Simple conflicts are generated by some very primitive unlearned responses, such as the orienting response which directs attention to new stimuli or to anything which stands out from the background in one’s perception of the environment. People quickly learn to make sense of such signals as part of a more complex learned process of adaptation by referring them to an ordered representation of what has happened before. If a new signal is something very similar to what is already there it will be easy to give it meaning by fitting it into that representation of past experience, but if it does not fit easily there will be a conflict which can be resolved by one of two processes of modification, which following Piaget (Piaget 1950) I have called assimilation and accommodation. In the first, assimilation, the conceptual conflict is resolved by changing one’s perception of what is out there, that is by modifying the signal to fit the cognitive map. Alternatively, one can modify the cognitive map to accommodate the signal. The more strange, unusual or unexpected the event, or you might say the greater the information value of the signal, the greater will be the need for assimilation or accommodation or both. People who readily assimilate what they experience to what is already known will not experience very much curiosity. That might be because they experience little conflict when they do not have a sufficiently differentiated map of the world for a novel event to cause much conflict. Or they may be too anxious about its effects and fail to perceive its unique characteristics, and so act defensively to put it away with as little trouble as possible. They could thus make it fit where it does not fit well, and thus store potential for future conflict. On the other hand some people will readily re-order their view of the world to accommodate new information, but if they do so quickly and without gathering more information they might simply pigeon-hole it or produce a new category which is not well integrated with the whole cognitive map. That map would then be unlikely to remain stable for very long.

The highly curious person with a high regard for the uniqueness of the signal and for the integrity of his or her cognitive map, and will be loathe to either assimilate or accommodate. He or she will seek the best possible fit, and typically that will require seeking additional information to build a suitable new integration of the incoming information with what was known before. So questions will be asked, calculations might be made, things will be turned over and looked under, there may well be much wondering and doubting; but after the ball has been kept bouncing for a sufficient length of time some sort of resolution will be reached in which sufficient accommodation occurs for the conceptual conflict to be resolved. The result is that a new order or representation of the world is developed. There is no homeostatic restoration of a previous state of affairs that became disturbed, but a new order is produced. The assumption we make is that there is a natural tendency towards such a systematic integration of the cognitive map. That is given in the way the brain functions. The processes of integration typically require one to seek information which is additional to that which gave rise to the perceived conflict or gap which aroused curiosity. Information seeking and processing are instrumental acts which follow from arousal. Some people will be much better able than others to carry them out and more confident in their capacity to cope with the arousal, without debilitating anxiety, and so are more likely to remain in a situation of uncertainty long enough to produce an enduring new integration. Individual differences will then appear at many points in the creation, maintenance and resolution of conceptual conflicts and gaps in knowledge.

Some illustrations


The relationship of intrinsic motivation to academic work was illustrated long ago by Chaucer in his Clerk of Oxenford when he used the now obsolete English word "cure", meaning care, in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. That sense of the word cure is obsolete in so far as it is no longer used in its general sense of "care", although it survives in the now seldom used phrase "the cure of souls", meaning the pastoral care of people. Hence we have the clerical title "curate". We have also retained the more general sense of "cure", quite distantly, in "accuracy", as well, of course, as in “curiosity”. Chaucer gives us a beautiful example of the earlier sense of "cure" meaning care or careful attention where he describes what is fundamental to the motivation for academic work in his "Clerk of Oxenford":-


A clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logik hadde longe y-go.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his friendes hente
On bokes and lerninge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf him wher-with to scoleye.
Of studie took he most cure and most hede.
And gladly wolde he learn and gladely teche.


There you have in its purest form what we are trying to understand: Of studie took he most cure and most hede …..And gladly wolde he learn and gladely teche. Academics today are not too keen on the "litel gold in cofre", and we would not wish it to be seen as a necessary ingredient of this way of life, nor I suppose would the ancient clerk. The point is, however, that while he might have sought payment, and was pleased to receive it, it was not the reason he undertook his work. He would gladly learn and gladly teach because it was intrinsically rewarding.


Even the modern sense of "cure" as a concept in health has connotations similar to the processes of cognition in the development of a newly integrated whole when healing takes place. There is a common deep root to all these conceptions of wholeness, whether it is in the careful attention of the student seeking a new ordering of knowledge, or in the integration of personality, or in healing. I will be suggesting that the same deep root is relevant to the solution of some practical problems in the management of incentives.


Moving to the present day we find the following set of predictions for the behaviour of students by Amabile and her associates arising out of their development of the Work Preference Inventory (Amabile, Hill et al. 1994) to measure intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and the theories which informed that work:-.


.... compared with students who score low on Intrinsic Motivation, students who score high should be more likely to voluntarily undertake challenging courses and course assignments; enroll in courses that will allow them autonomy; choose professions that will allow them active, self-reliant involvement in their work; continue their educations (formally or informally) beyond college; become more deeply involved in the activities they undertake; perform more creatively in their work after college; evidence more curiosity toward new or unusual things: and express higher levels of positive affect when engaged in complex, challenging activities.


Elsewhere Conti, Amabile and Pollak (Conti, Amabile et al. 1995) described the implications for learning with a positive impact of creative activity:-


When students are intrinsically motivated, they are genuinely interested and involved in what they are learning and hence are likely to actively process the information with which they are presented. Conversely, students who are extrinsically motivated are concerned mainly with their grades and often adopt a more passive processing approach (Meece, Blumenfeld et al. 1988; Nolan 1988; Pintrich and deGroot 1990; Graham and Golan 1991; Garcia and Pintrich 1992; Williams, Schullo et al. 1992). Perhaps their preference for active learning is what makes intrinsically motivated students more likely than their extrinsically motivated counterparts to choose novel and challenging tasks (Deci and Ryan 1985), to be curious, persistent, and creative in their approach toward those tasks(Amabile 1983a; Amabile 1983b), and subsequently to show high levels of concept attainment (Dweck and Bempechat 1983; Deci and Ryan 1985; Deci and Ryan 1987),  and high academic achievement (Gottfried 1985).


Some practical implications


There is much similarity between that general view of the effects of intrinsic motivation on students and the characteristics of highly curious people. I like to think of curiosity as belonging at the border between chaos and cosmos. Highly curious people will remain longer than others in situations of uncertainty, as well as being more likely to be in such situations in the first place. As we have noted in the cognitive process theory, they will have developed a range of investigative skills to help resolve conceptual conflicts, or to resolve the tension generated by gaps in knowledge, by gathering and processing additional information. They will have a sufficient sense of security in their world to put their cognitive maps in jeopardy without experiencing debilitating anxiety. This suggests that they will be assisted by training which gives them useful skills in information gathering and processing, and by success which increases their confidence in their ability to resolve conceptual conflicts. They are then able to run the risk of creating a new and better order, and in so doing they will have the capacity to carry out the integration required to create a sense of cosmos where there was the threat of chaos. That is, they will be able, typically, and more than most people, to create, maintain, and resolve conceptual conflicts, gaps and uncertainties. At each of these points one can see that different types of consequences, or extrinsic rewards, for engaging in intrinsically motivated behaviour will have facilitating or debilitating effects. In general, any consequences that heighten anxiety will be debilitating, while those outcomes which contribute to personal growth and fulfilment will facilitate intrinsically motivated work or learning.


There are practical implications of various aspects of the theory. For example, in regard to the need for attention to both openness and orderliness, in times of cultural revolution when it has been popular to promote of rapid social change, there has been a tendency in education to emphasise openness to novelty, and flexibility in general; but, while an emphasis on openness and flexibility has its value, especially in a system that has been repressive, it will not result in intrinsically motivated learning without that regard for order which makes up the other half of the conditions which give rise to conceptual conflicts and the greater likelihood of investigative behaviour. Mere openness and its associated value of flexibility will not do the trick on its own. On the other side, the tendency to value established order in large institutions will militate against that openness which is also essential. Sadly, educational institutions are no exception and often kill curiosity and creativity. However, conceptual orderliness and regard for social order are not the same thing, although they tend to be related culturally. For example, highly curious children have been found by (Maw and Magoon 1971) to be more socially responsible than those with little curiosity. But, obviously, too much concern for social order as with mere stimulus input will be counter-productive. Much more follows in various fields, and hopefully the practical consequences of an empirically supported and well developed understanding of curiosity will help to improve conditions of work and learning so as to make a number of professions more effective. Practical applications of the general principles of intrinsic motivation will normally occur within a social system in which extrinsic rewards are managed for purposes of production. It is at this point that the management of incentives for intrinsically motivated behaviour becomes critically important if the positive effects of intrinsic motivation are not to be lost.

Personality dynamics which moderate the effects of rewards


At the centre of the debate about the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation is the question of how making a task into a means to an end reduces the sense people can have of being an effective agent in what is important to them. In this way it is a component in worker alienation. There have been a number of theories which use the value of freedom and autonomy to explain the negative effects. They predict that when extrinsic rewards are used to harness work for some purpose that is not in harmony with the interests of the worker, it will be experienced as a loss of freedom. Power has moved from the person who undertakes the task to some other person or impersonal agency which defines or controls the rewards. Concepts of personal causation (deCharms 1987; deCharms 1992a) self-determination (Deci 1980; Deci and Ryan 1985; Deci and Ryan 2002) and responsibility (Winter 1992) have been applied in attempts to understand the process. Theories developed from these concepts have been advanced to indicate how improvements can be made to the management of incentives to retain the valuable contribution of intrinsically motivated behaviour, especially in any enterprise which requires originality and creativity.


There is a history of more than thirty years in which the relevant issues have been studied in personality and social psychology. Before Deci's original experiment, deCharmes had suggested (deCharms 1968; deCharms 1984) at about the same time as Kelly (Kelly 1967) that adding an extrinsic incentive to intrinsically motivated behaviour would reduce the experience of what he called personal causation. Deci demonstrated the phenomenon of suppressed intrinsic motivation experimentally a few years later (Deci 1975) and his work has led to many further studies to define the conditions under which it occurs. Deci later combined with Ryan (Deci and Ryan 1985) to develop a theory of self determination and intrinsic behavior  to explain the suppression effect and to suggest conditions of personal development and purposive behaviour in which it might be avoided. Deci has written a good deal on management principles to provide practical guidance on the management of productive systems in ways which can maintain the most effective motivation, notably in a book with the catchy title Why we do what we do (Deci and Flaste 1995). Recently similar purposes have been addressed by Amabile (Amabile 1993; Amabile 1996; Amabile 1998) with particular reference to the necessary conditions for maintaining intrinsic motivation in a business culture which is conducive to creativity.


In general, successful strategies have been claimed to include some means of integrating the rewarded behaviour and the rewards with personal goals and development processes. Deci and Ryan  (Deci and Ryan 1985) have written in terms a theory of self determination which we consider further below. In his earlier work deCharmes had defined personal causation as “a primary motivational propensity to be effective in producing changes in the environment” which looks a little like power motivation in the McClelland, Atkinson and Veroff tradition. Associated with this tradition was the seminal paper of (White 1959) on effectence motivation which is acknowledged my almost all subsequent authors in this field. As noted above, White drew attention to the fact that people typically gain pleasure and satisfaction from the sheer sense of being able to do something, to be effective in it, whether it be in play or work, physical or mental. In his later work, while still retaining the value of people feeling effective in what they did, deCharmes dropped the motivational quality and saw personal causation more simply: “personal causation means doing something intentionally to produce a change”. It was described largely in term of a personal experience of people having a sense of being the origin of their own actions.

DeCharmes had taken the idea of personal causation from Heider’s concept of “perceived internal locus of causality for behaviour”
(Heider 1958). He later preferred “personal” to “internal” causation, to remove ambiguities in the loose term “internal” and in order to differentiate this concept from Rotter’s “locus of control of reinforcements” (Rotter 1954) with its internal and external orientations. DeCharmes made a distinction between Heider’s phrase “for behaviour” and Rotter’s “of reinforcements” (deCharmes 1992), and following McClelland he put emphasis directly on the actions of a person rather than the results of an action in a means-ends relationship. Rotter’s measure of internal vs. external control is a self-report measure of perceived control over reinforcements that is uncorrelated with deCharmes and Plimpton’s origin scale (deCharms and Plimpton 1992b).


The concept of origin is crucial to deCharmes' understanding of personal causation. To some extent this approach flies in the face of centuries of philosophical discussion about agency, responsibility, causation and determination. The authors in this field generally and deCharmes in particular have not been concerned with the question whether or in what sense a person may be independently responsible as a causal agent rather than having his or her behaviour determined by many interacting contingencies. Whatever might be seen by an independent observer, and regardless of whether some might think a person’s sense of agency is a delusion, deCharmes has focussed attention on a person’s own experience of being the origin of his or her actions. He sought to “describe a personal experience that accompanies a behavioural episode of personal causation”. The elements of this experience have been used to provide an operational definition of it in a scoring manual for content analysis of fantasy material with reference to sequences of images for “goal setting” and “responsibility”. Goal setting was seen to be evident in a sequence which included at least some of the following:- independent determination of one’s goals; free choice of means to achieve the goals; realistic assessment of abilities and relationships with others and the environment; and self-confidence in one’s ability to initiate successful behaviour leading to a positive conclusion. The same elements, combined with a responsibility sequence, were used to train children so as to increase their sense of being origins rather than pawns in a classroom situation. Effects that were evident some years later included improved achievement test results and increased rates of graduation from high school (deCharmes 1976 cited in deCharmes 1992) , (Jackson 1976) (deCharms 1992a)).


Although it was not expressed this way it seems to have been understood by the authors that external incentives such as encouragement and social approval could be used, for example by parents and teachers, to reinforce children’s self understanding of their being causal agents in important aspects of their lives. In a manner similar to the work on the development of need for achievement by Rosen and D’Andrade (Rosen and D'Andrade 1959) it was shown by (Jackson 1973), (deCharms 1992a) that warm commendation and encouragement of children in a building block task could increase their sense of personal causation. There was a curvilinear relationship between the number of a mother’s directive statements and the origin score of the child. The greatest sense of personal causation was found in that study to occur when mothers gave moderate amounts of help but did not dominate or ignore the child. This points to the close affinity between research on personal causation and the extensive studies of need for achievement by McClelland and his associates, in which extrinsic rewards can play a positive role provided that they function to provide information relevant to people achieving their own standards of excellence.


The beneficial effects of a sense of being the origin of one’s actions, are not due simply to an interest in achievement or the exercise of power. This is important in fields like education and health today because we often hear talk of empowerment in the context of creativity and personal development, but in so far as these things are intrinsically motivated, it is not simply a matter of acquiring or defending personal power . The relationship of conditions which enhance rather suppress intrinsic motivation to those which enable satisfaction of need for achievement requires more study in detail, but the key point of similarity is in McClelland's description of need for achievement in terms of competition with an internalised standard of excellence. So, in so far as the function of an extrinsic reward is to provide evidence relevant to the attainment of such a standard, it will have positive effects. The person whose behaviour is being rewarded needs to feel responsible for the outcome as a free agent who is achieving his or her own goals and who is the origin of the achieving behaviour. Responsibility is a related concept that has been studied in this context.


It was in the tradition of McClelland and Atkinson’s studies of individual differences in personality dimensions such as need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power, that Winter developed his understanding of responsibility. Its operational definition included senses of self-control, awareness of the consequences of one’s actions, “owning” one’s behaviour and taking responsibility for others (Winter 1992). Responsibility, as Winter measured it, was conceived as a stable disposition, not as a motive which might energize and direct behaviour but rather as a cluster of cognitions (believes and values) that act to shape the ways in which motives are expressed. The highly responsible person's regard for consistent individual differences in preferred cognitive processes has some similarity with other cognitive theories of dispositions such as curiosity and need for cognition, which might otherwise be considered as motives, and of course with deCharmes concept of origin. “Need for cognition” is a variable for which there is reliable measurement that is closely correlated with some measures of intrinsic motivation (Cacioppo, Petty et al. 1996). The extensive research on this measure needs more extended treatment than it can be given it here, but work in that area leads to similar conclusions.


Winter developed his measure of responsibility as a result of having worked previously on distinguishing “good” expressions of the power motive in socially responsible leadership from “bad” expressions which he and McClelland termed “profligate expansive impulsivity” (McClelland and Boyatzis 1982 cited in  (Winter 1992), (Winter 1973).  Results of the measurement studies indicate that responsibility has two components which differentiate between criterion groups in the same direction but consist of unrelated clusters. There is a self critical “must” referring to moral standards, obligation and concern for others, and an altruism that is oriented towards consequences for the future. Winter has suggested that the latter perhaps develops with cognitive growth, which fits with our conception of the intrinsic motivation at the macro level. Winter's measure of responsibility has been found in validation studies to act as a moderating variable in the effects of power motivation. So, for example, among men and women who scored high on the responsibility measure, power motivation predicted office holding, effective and “conscientious” functioning, and openness to experience, while for those low in responsibility power motivation predicted “profligate” behaviours such as drinking, reading sex-oriented magazines, and sexual possessiveness. (In regard to openness to experience, similar results have been found for the relationship between curiosity and social responsibility, as noted elsewhere in reference to the early work of Maw and later studies of the “need for cognition”.) Winter found in a re-scoring of earlier data from McClelland and Boyatzis that the combination of high responsibility with high power motivation predicted managerial success eight years later (Winter 1992).

The way responsibility acts as a moderator of the effects of power motivation helps to explain the function of personal causation in the operation of intrinsic motivation. It might be that it is important for a person to be able to exercise some power, but it is not simply a matter of will, or of being able to exercise one’s own will, or of freedom to act in one’s own interest. McClelland, (deCharms 1992a), did find an association of the deCharmes origin scale with power motivation, but only for children who were high in “Activity Inhibition”. The point of theoretical interest is that intrinsic motivation is expected to remain effective, not simply when a person is able to exercise personal power, but rather when power is exerted within a social and personal context that is controlled and purposeful. Behaviour in a means-ends sequence that is rewarded extrinsically will not be experienced as reducing the person to a pawn, to the extent that at the same time it is rewarding within the person’s own understanding of who they are and where they are heading as an integrated responsible agent. That is, that while a reward that is extrinsic to the task for which a person was intrinsically motivated might come to function as a reinforcement for that behaviour but at the cost of responsibility being seen to have been transferred to some other agency which controls the reward, it is an implication of Winter's theory of responsibility that if at the same time the reward is intrinsic to the person’s self understanding and purposeful development in which they can own their own behaviour the inhibiting effect on intrinsic motivation will be reduced or perhaps eliminated. A person having a sense of responsibility for his or her actions and being the origin of purposeful behaviour will be better able to gain those benefits than one who experiences manipulation at the hands of an external agent.


Where in this context we refer to people understanding who they are and where they are heading as integrated responsible agents we see the need to understand further function of a sense of identity and becoming. This is being developed, or at least as start is being made, in a separate paper, From curiosity to identity.


The findings and implications of research on personal causation and responsibility confirmed my preference for a general theory of the operation of intrinsic motivation which combines the micro level of engagement in an intrinsically rewarding task with a macro level of intrinsically satisfying sequences of behaviour which make sense within a person’s self understanding and purposes. At both the macro and micro levels there are basic processes of integration and development which are intrinsically satisfying. At both levels there is the development of a new order, a new whole or gestalt, whether it be in that part of a person's map of the world which was affected by engagement in the task or in the broader concept of the self and one's place in the world.


Deci and his associates (Deci and Ryan 1985; Ryan and Deci 2000; Deci, Koestner et al. 2001) have put forward a cognitive evaluation theory as part of their self-determination theory to explain the reduction of intrinsic motivation by extrinsic rewards. This leads in much the same direction as the theories already discussed. It has been further elaborated (Ryan and Deci 2000) in ways which point to the same convergence in different approaches as is suggested by the generalisation of cognitive process theory from the micro to the macro level of intrinsic motivation. From their point of view, events which increase a sense of competence or self-determination will enhance intrinsic motivation, while rewards for taking part or completing an activity, which thus were task-contingent, would reduce intrinsic interest by lessening self-determination. However, they claimed that quality-dependent extrinsic rewards could increase rather than decrease feelings of competence and thus be less likely to suppress intrinsic interest. Their contribution has been controversial and before taking it further it is necessary to see it in the context of the debate on the general implications of over 100 empirical studies of the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation.

The recent debate on the effects of extrinsic rewards


Debate on the suppression of intrinsic motivation by extrinsic rewards in psychological journals over recent years is too big a topic to be reviewed here except in the briefest terms, but some aspects of it are informative for our immediate purpose. Meta-analyses of a large number of studies have been published by Cameron and Pierce (Cameron and Pierce 1994) and Eisenberger and Cameron (Eisenberger and Cameron 1996) who approached the subject from a “behaviourist” perspective. Their findings indicate support from these many studies for the view that tangible rewards like money tend to suppress intrinsic motivation in so far as it is evident in subsequent time spent on the task, but not when it is measured by verbal expressions of attitude. They found from their classification of many investigations, that the effect tended to occur when the reward was expected and independent of performance. They also concluded that tangible rewards had a small positive affect on attitude to the task if the reward was quality dependent. Verbal rewards, praise and the like, tended to have a positively reinforcing effect on both free time on the task and attitudes to the task. They also questioned the inhibiting effects on creativity, citing evidence for the positive reinforcement of divergent thinking by extrinsic rewards and arguing for the generalisation of such effects:


The research on creativity shows, as with intrinsic task interest, that the decremental effects of reward occur under limited conditions that are easily avoided. Rewards can be used to either enhance or diminish creative performance depending on the way they are administered (Eisenberger and Selbst 1994)


Whether conditions which produce the negative effect are very limited or quite common is one the points of several critical notes (Hennessey and Amabile 1998; Sansone and Harackiewicz 1998), Amabile and Hennesy 1996), and there is no doubt that we are dealing with matters of emphasis. Most people in the field are trying to deal with the complexities of conditions which interact to produce effects that are not universal. Eisenberger and Cameron held the view is that too much has been made of the suppressing effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation because of the popularity of individualistic values, pursuing personal goals, and exploring one’s creative potential. They see the work of Deci, Amabile and others as appealing to a romantic view of human nature and the high value placed on personal freedom in Western society, as in the introduction to their review:


Romantic individualism plays a major role in Western culture's emphasis on individual freedom, self-expression, and self-fulfillment, as reflected in the writings of humanistic psychologists (most notably, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers', see (Rogers and Skinner 1956; Hergenhahn 1992) and many cognitive-social psychologists who study intrinsic task interest and creativity (e.g., (deCharms 1968; Amabile 1983a; Deci and Ryan 1985)).


Implicit Romantic conceptions about human motivation (Hogan 1975; Geller 1982) are contained in major explanations for the decremental effects of reward. Individuals are presumed (a) to identify themselves primarily as unique rather than as an integral part of a social collective, (b) to possess potentialities that are better fostered through self-determined exploration than social influence, and (c) to have an aversion to constraints on freedom of action. Systems of reward for improved task performance, as promoted by behaviorally oriented psychologists are seen as inherently self-defeating because they interfere with the desire to explore one's own potential. They are further viewed as incompatible with the spontaneity and flexibility of self-initiated behavior required for creativity (McGraw 1978; Deci and Ryan 1985; Amabile, Hennessey et al. 1986).


Deci and colleagues (Deci, Koestner et al. 1999) published a later review directly contradicting the conclusion by Einsberger and Cameron that the suppressing effect of tangible rewards was limited to conditions in which rewards were independent of performance. From another meta-analysis they concluded that “all expected tangible rewards made contingent on task performance do reliably undermine intrinsic motivation”. The following year Ryan and Deci (Ryan and Deci 2000) published a general article on self-determination theory, restating their cognitive evaluation theory, focussing attention “on the fundamental needs for competence and autonomy". They saw competence and autonomy as different variables, having different but complementary effects. So feedback and communication rewards that induce feelings of competence during action can enhance intrinsic motivation for that action. But they believed that feelings of competence would not enhance intrinsic motivation unless accompanied by a sense of autonomy, or could be experienced as internal locus of causality (the sense of origin in deCharmes’ terms). Social support or long term personal development will provide conditions for maintenance of intrinsic motivation, as this effect of personal causality requires either immediate contextual support for autonomy or abiding inner resources that are typically the result of prior developmental supports. So in addition to competence and autonomy, relatedness is a further contributing factor in interpersonal settings, with intrinsic motivation more likely to flourish where there is a sense of personal security in relationship with others.


Ryan and Deci conclude that extrinsic motivation can vary greatly in its relative autonomy. For example, students who do their homework because they see its value for their chosen career are extrinsically motivated, as are those who do the work only because they are adhering to their parents control. The effects on intrinsic motivation for the learning task will differ according to whether the extrinsic rewards entail personal endorsement and a feeling of choice or whether they result from compliance with external regulation. Noting such effects of personally meaningful extrinsic rewards, Ryan and Deci proposed what they called “organismic integration theory” to detail different types of extrinsic motivation and contextual factors and how they could either promote or hinder internalisation and integration of the regulation of behaviour.


This theory of integration has much in common with the general processes of integration in what I have called the macro level of intrinsic motivation. Ryan and Deci say that integration occurs when identified regulations are fully assimilated to the self, which means that they have been evaluated and brought into congruence with one’s other values and needs. The generalised form of the cognitive process theory suggests that social conditions and tangible rewards will have a facilitating effect on intrinsic motivation when they enable further development of an integrated person through personally meaningful purposive behaviour. In the same way that intrinsically motivated behaviour at the task or micro level functions to resolve conflicts and gaps through the achievement of a newly integrated cognitive map in that limited domain, the processes of integration at the level of the whole personality will tend to resolve conflicts and gaps at the macro level.

In a suitable riposte to the charge of romantic individualism, Ryan and Deci say “we do not equate autonomy with independence or individualism”. Rather they refer to the satisfaction of basic needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness in a social context across the life span. They also recognize the developmental aspect when they say that the range of behaviour that can be assimilated to the self increases over time with increased cognitive capacities and ego development. That would parallel the increased capacity of the highly curious person to carry out the instrumental acts required in the cognitive process theory of curiosity to gather and process the additional information required to achieve a good resolution of conceptual gaps and conflicts. There is, however, a significant difference at the starting point. Ryan and Deci simply accept intrinsic motivation as a given quality, saying “our theory of intrinsic motivation does not concern what causes intrinsic motivation”, while I have attempted to give an account of what gives rise to it and how it functions at the task level. In the absence of a general theory of basic processes they have offered organismic integration theory to account for the otherwise puzzling effects of extrinsic rewards. The cognitive process theory can give an account of intrinsic motivation at the micro level of interesting tasks which can be applied in parallel terms at the macro level of personal development in such a way as to account for the effects of extrinsic rewards. It should therefore provide general guidance for the management of incentives for academic work and other forms of creative endeavour.

While the creation, maintenance and resolution of conceptual conflicts and perceived gaps can be described in terms of cognitive processes in a way which gives some explanatory power at the task level and in a generalisation of the theory to the macro level of purposive strivings for personal development, the theory nevertheless includes an assumption of a primitive tendency to integrate experiences. There seems to be no escape from the need for some such starting point, presumably given by a basic quality in the way the brain works, but in the cognitive process theory it is moved back a step or two from Ryan and Deci’s unanalysed acceptance of intrinsic motivation as a given quality. If we know how it works, given the primitive tendency towards integration, it should be easier to specify conditions under which intrinsic motivation can be developed, protected, increased and made more effective. In the generalised form of the theory the information value of feedback for intrinsically motivated behaviour plays an important part, which is illustrated by a new review of studies on the effects of praise
(Henderlong and Leper 2002) which followed the above mentioned reviews and debate on the effects of extrinsic rewards.


Henderlong and Lepper argue against a purely behavioural definition of praise as verbal reinforcement and in favour of the view that praise may serve to undermine, enhance or have no effect on children’s intrinsic motivation.  Everything depends on how it is done.  Praise can be understood in some circumstances as a means of control by an external agent, and in the light of findings already discussed which point to the moderating effects of personal causation, a sense of agency and self-determination, we could expect praise to suppress or enhance intrinsic motivation depending upon how favourable such conditions might be in the way praise is given.  The conclusion of their review, while noting the complexity of the effects, was in general along those lines.  To have positive effects on intrinsic motivation, besides being sincere, praise needs to encourage performance being attributed to controllable causes, to promote autonomy, enhance competence without an over-reliance on social comparisons, and convey attainable standards and expectations.  These conditions, the latter two in particular, remind one of McClelland’s theory achievement motivation (McClelland, Atkinson et al. 1953; McClelland 1985) as competition with an internalized standard of excellence. The associated information value of feedback on performance is incorporated into achievement motivation theory by Atkinson’s model of expectancy value theory (Atkinson 1958; Atkinson and Raynor 1974).  At the same time praise as feedback which encourages attention to competence and to causes of behaviour under the control of the individual as an effective agent are in line with predictions from personal causation and cognitive evaluation theory (Ryan and Deci 2000).  We might prefer a more open view of purposive behaviour with the potential for unexpected yet satisfying outcomes than a strict notion of preconceived goal attainment which might be implied in the idea of self-determination, and that more open view is not excluded by these results, but the overall pattern is consistent with the previous meta-analytic findings of the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation.  It is a central tenet of attribution theory as developed originally by Heider, Kelly and others (Heider 1958; Kelly 1967; Kelly 1973) that people search for the causes of achievement outcomes.  As Henderlong and Lepper see it causal inferences then guide behaviour and emotional reactions in ways that make praise effective, and that is consistent with our cognitive process theory.


It is a relevant consideration to ask in regard to the conditions under which praise has an enhancing effect on intrinsic motivation whether praise is properly described as an extrinsic reward when it is given in a way which functions as helpful feedback on behaviour that is directed towards personally meaningful and intrinsically satisfying goals.  Is the effect due to whatever happens in the emotional influence of praise which may have social significance or to the information value of praise that is effective in pointing to things a person can do?  Perhaps the emotion and the information value cannot be neatly separated, and that is a topic for another day, but the completion of a process of developing a new order in one’s cognitive map could have signals in which emotion is a sign not so much of an externally managed reward as a sign of what is effective in a process of internal integration.  In terms of the conceptual system advanced in this paper, the evidence from many studies of the effects of praise appears to be that a great deal depends upon how the information in the praise communication equips recipients to take actions for which they are responsible with means which are at their disposal, so that the person receiving this kind of praise is an effective agent.  Then, in reference to the supposed general tendency to seek integration of disparate elements in one’s experience, with the overcoming of conceptual conflicts and gaps in knowledge, it would seem that creative integration at the macro level within the person is dependent upon active personal engagement.  There may be a clue here to reasons why autonomy and personal causation appear to be necessary conditions for effective integrative solutions which produce a new cognitive order including a positively appreciated self-concept.


[Note: The cognitive process theory of curiosity presented in this paper and generalized to higher order cognitive functions has been further developed since the major part of this paper was written.  As originally conceived it did not incorporate the function of gaps in knowledge with the operation of conceptual conflict, it failed to account for the role of emotion and it was too much focussed on individual differences.   A general theory of cognitive motivation incorporating curiosity, purpose and meaning, is being prepared for publication.] 




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