Rica spends the longest hours reading the most boring novels just to get the exemption privileges that our English Literature professor gives us. When all of us have given up hope on solving a Calculus problem for additional merits, Rica will waste precious neurons and hours until she could solve them. She even grabbed the tedious job of checking the class attendance for our Psychology class just so she could get extra credits for the course. Weird huh? But what makes it stranger is the fact that she doesn’t even like any of these courses. I know this because she writes about it in her blog. Rica’s other penchant is active participation in school organizations. She is the president of the school chapter of an organization that promotes the rights of animals, a member of the IT club and is also one of the lead actresses of the theatre group. The only school organization that Rica isn’t a member of is the male honor students fraternity. In the event that they start accepting female applicants, she will probably be the first one to whip it. But Rica doesn’t even like dogs so why is she the president of an organization that deals with animals, many of which are dogs? She hates IT and wrote essays on its disadvantages for the school publication so why is she in the IT club? She loves acting but despises many of the members of the theatre group so why can’t she just find another venue for her talent? I can only think of one answer to all my questions. They are all magnets for popularity. The animal club has been featured in local television for the work that it has done, IT members are esteemed by the student body and the theatre group is famous for its modern versions of classic plays. I assume that Rica’s frenzy for good grades is matched by a strong desire for popularity, hence the memberships.
Grades and acquiring popularity are two sources of extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is motivation that is rooted in an external stimulus, something that is in the individual’s environment. Extrinsic motivation provides the individual satisfaction in performing a task that even if the individual doesn’t really like doing it, he or she continues to accomplish the work because of his or her anticipated reward.
Extrinsic motivation has been the fuel of many of man’s activities – from education to the workplace. The various types of extrinsic motivation ranging from the more common ones such as money, fame and recognition, awards and prizes, status and privileges to the extreme ones like bribery, threats and punishments have been utilized by man of all ages and sizes, and in different circumstances.
Is extrinsic motivation effective? I wonder. Here are a few points on the matter that we should consider:
• Extrinsic motivation does induce an individual to perform a certain task even if there is no interest in it. But it doesn’t mean that the person does not get pleasure from working or completing the task. It’s just that the external reward lengthens the duration of the anticipated reward even if interest is long gone.
• It paves the way for the individual to set goals. By setting their eyes on the prize, the individual will consort to playing by the rules and even develop a huge amount of persistence towards getting that reward.
• Extrinsic motivators can release stress. The lack of extrinsic motivation cannot distract a person from the pressure that he gets from his job.
• Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable. Eliminate the reward and you eliminate the action. Withdraw the punishment or reward, sayonara motivation!
• It gives diminishing returns. Motivation slowly vanishes when the punishment or reward stay at equivalent levels. More motivation means bigger rewards.
• Extrinsic motivation highlights overjustification and hurts intrinsic motivation. When you punish or reward people for doing something, their desire to do it on their own evaporates. If at first a person loves doing a task but then his love is punished or rewarded, then the original love will vanish and the person will be doing it for sheer reward or to avoid punishment (overjustification). If the reason for engaging in a certain activity is a reward or accolade, then the activity will become less enjoyable without such accompaniment.
• Extrinsic motivators are limited but we can’t really place them out of the picture. We can’t ignore the fact that extrinsic motivators keep us moving when the going is tough. They give us perseverance when we’ve lost interest or drive for the task at hand.
After considering all the points above, is extrinsic motivation effective? It is when it is kept in check. If we lean too much on rewards then we end up doing mediocre work – just enough to meet our needs. On the other hand, if we are denied of the external side of things like money then we will live the life of a drifter – stressed and constantly changing work. What are your thoughts on the matter?