On what motivates us: A detailed review of intrinsic v. extrinsic motivation

Laurel S. Morris, Mora M. Grehl, Sarah B. Rutter, Marishka Mehta, Margaret L. Westwater

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Motivational processes underlie behaviors that enrich the human experience, and impairments in motivation are commonly observed in psychiatric illness. While motivated behavior is often examined with respect to extrinsic reinforcers, not all actions are driven by reactions to external stimuli; some are driven by 'intrinsic' motivation. Intrinsically motivated behaviors are computationally similar to extrinsically motivated behaviors, in that they strive to maximize reward value and minimize punishment. However, our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie intrinsically motivated behavior remains limited. Dysfunction in intrinsic motivation represents an important trans-diagnostic facet of psychiatric symptomology, but due to a lack of clear consensus, the contribution of intrinsic motivation to psychopathology remains poorly understood. This review aims to provide an overview of the conceptualization, measurement, and neurobiology of intrinsic motivation, providing a framework for understanding its potential contributions to psychopathology and its treatment. Distinctions between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are discussed, including divergence in the types of associated rewards or outcomes that drive behavioral action and choice. A useful framework for understanding intrinsic motivation, and thus separating it from extrinsic motivation, is developed and suggestions for optimization of paradigms to measure intrinsic motivation are proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1801-1816
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - 7 Jul 2022


  • Cognitive models
  • Depression
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Intrinsic motivation


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