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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Intrinsic motivation is that within ourselves that motivates us, as opposed to motivation outside ourselves, for example, being motivated by the prospect of recognition or monetary reward. I happen to think that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than extrinsic motivation, but not everyone will agree with that opinion.

Let me give you some examples of intrinsic motivation. One great satisfaction in life is completing a difficult task. Have you ever worked really hard on something and noticed how great it feels when you are done? We are motivated to accomplish a difficult task to attain that wonderful feeling. Another kind of intrinsic motivation is the motivation that makes us take on a new challenge and overcome new hurdles. Certainly, we could just learn how to do one thing well and keep on doing that one thing, but most of us take great pleasure in stretching ourselves, mentally or physically, to learn something new, to climb a higher mountain, to take on an extra task at work, all ways of challenging ourselves. There is an intrinsic reward in setting new and challenging goals for oneself, and that inward reward is what motivates so many people to strive to do something more. The satisfaction of curiosity is another form of intrinsic motivation. We often wonder why, and we reward ourselves with the answers. Curiosity is a powerful driving force for humans, and a very intrinsic one.

I am not an evolutionary psychologist, but I really think that humans who were able to act upon intrinsic motivation were the ones who were most likely to survive long enough to pass on their genes. These are the people who were motivated by the idea of completing difficult tasks, stretching their physical and mental muscles, and asking "Why?" for the satisfaction of the answer. They cultivated plants, invented the wheel, designed pyramids, and created democracy. In short, they were responsible for the advances of humankind. I think they took great intrinsic pleasure in their creative and intellectual endeavors, and now, of course, so can we.