On Intrinsic Motivation

How Motivation Affects Academic Achievement and Learning

Master's Thesis, 2013

30 Pages















The following is a literature review at Concordia University-Portland and a research project on levels of intrinsic motivation in relation to high school students grades. The research question is, “What role does intrinsic motivation play on the academic achievement of the learner?” A definition is given, and independent variables affecting the dependent variable of intrinsic motivation are discussed. Intervention for the improvement of intrinsic motivation are stated in graphic organizers. Also discussed is learning and learners with disabilities and their relationships to intrinsic motivation. There is discussion of 3 self-report surveys of levels of intrinsic motivation given at a private, parochial, and Sunday School learners, observations, and comparison of available grades to ascertain if intrinsically motivated students do indeed earn better grades.


Intrinsic motivation is “engaging in learning opportunities because they are enjoyable, interesting, or relative to meeting one’s core psychological needs (Ryan Deci, 2000). If this type of motivation is nurtured in the learner, the result can be academic and social/emotional improvements (Froiland, Oros, Smith Hirchert, 2012). Now is as good a time as any to seriously promote this in schools (Froiland, et.al). Keeping intrinsically motivated and strengthening intrinsic motivation throughout life requires supportive autonomy in home and school environments (Froiland, et.al.). Intrinsically motivated students learn more, are better behaved and are happier and responsible citizens who bring a lot to the table to benefit society (Froiland, et.al).

The issue of the learner desiring on his own to succeed academically is especially important when considering that learning ideally will be a lifelong event. Learning for its own enjoyment can benefit the learner, the community, and society. It is the responsibility of the learner, educator, parents, and administration to educe, or draw out, the learning capabilities and possibilities in the home, community, and school. Establishment of a baseline of perceived intrinsic motivation as it relates to academic achievement can be used by the schools surveyed to become aware of positive and negative factors to be found in order to make corrections.

Intrinsic motivation is the energy that keeps learners excited about completing academic assignments for the enjoyment of doing so (Deci Ryan,1985). Intrinsic motivation is also defined as “the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity to explore and to learn” (Deci Ryan, 2000, p.70).” The will to learn is an intrinsic motive” (Bruner, 1966, p. 127). It is the force which generates deep learning versus shallow learning (Biggs, 1987). As an extension, with the will to learn more deeply ensues a good or service with deeper value or meaning, if the learning is applied.

Intrinsic motivation could be said to have similarities with philosophies of Eastern religions such as Hinduism. The aim of these formal institutions, particularly the first aim is, “the inhibition of those activities of the mind by which it gets connected with the world of matter and objects,” or the chitta-vritti-narodha (Mookerji, 2003, p. 23.). In intrinsic motivation actions or behaviors are engaged in without respect to “the world of matter and objects,” or extrinsic rewards. The Judeo-Christian construct of love, as in agape, one of the types of love from the Greek language, is defined as giving without expect for returns also can be seen in the definition of intrinsic motivation, it could involve the giving of your time and energy academically without expecting to get good grades, for example, but rather for the satisfaction of learning. In both there is a disconnection with matter, objects, or physical rewards and altruistic considerations.

When looking at intrinsic motivation through the lens of being a good work, resulting in academic achievement; better grades by the putting of more effort into an assignment, a type of spiritual renewal has occurred. Instead of learning for the purpose of extrinsic rewards gratifying bodily desires and cravings as in the use of candy for a reward, the learner transcends this need, want, desire, and seeks reward through gratification from/through the mind and/or heart, which is the intellect, will, and emotion. A type of sanctification occurs in that there is the process of spiritual renewal and, by definition, the concept of sanctification occurs (Steinmann, Eschelbach, 2015, p.112). The learner may have in the past been motivated to complete a task by being extrinsically, or physically rewarded with candy, or monetarily, but now being intrinsically motivated, completes the task, duty, or assignment because of this spiritual transformation that has occurred there being a distinction between things of the body and things of the mind.

On the other hand, “The brain makes its own rewards and it does not necessarily make a difference if the reward is “concrete,” physical or “more cognitive” (Jensen, 2005, p.104). There is extreme variation in the brain’s response to rewards depending on successes (et.al). The brains rewards are called opiates and make a person feel good generally (et.al). Perhaps both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have a connection because of the reward stemming from increases in levels of dopamine in the brain. This may need further study. Do both involve being biological rewarded, if the brain is considered from a biological viewpoint?

Good works are said “to be motivated by the mercy of God in Christ” (et.al., p.113). A spiritual transformation, “the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace,” or Scripture and the Sacraments (et.al., p.112). This is the creation in the individual, of a desire from the heart, the mind, will, and intellect to succeed or change behavior for an intrinsic, sometimes not immediately tangible purpose such as getting something done, doing what he/she is told to do, learning something new in order to help others.


The major factor for fostering a child’s motivation depends on the child’s perception of the world (du Charms, 1968). If a learner is the initiator, or origin he/she is more likely to react with intrinsic motivation (du Charms, et.al.). “When people perceive themselves to be the pawn,” there is a tendency for the self to be the source of actions (du Charms, et.al.). The learner’s schema and perception of the world will determine the response. Humans have a tendency to react differently when they are at different steps of the autonomy ladder to compensate for the height; a person who has more power, capabilities to transform a situation for example, who is a knight on the chessboard, will have different behavior, or ways to move, than the pawn has.

According to du Charms (et.al.), this “Origin-Pawn” concept is one of four components for a motivation change program. There are four other components: (a) self- study; (b) goal setting; (c) engaging in activity to achieve these goals; and (c) transfer of these qualities to another aspect of the individual’s life. People who are considered an “origin” or initiator of learning have six characteristics which set them apart from “pawns” or less autonomous individuals: (a) internally in control of their actions; (b) setting of realistic goals; (c) engaging in activity for achievement of these goals; (d) accepting the fact that there are going to be consequences from their actions (e) confidently and; (f) understanding the use of these components in different settings than the academic setting (Cohen, 1996).

These five components, transformed into research or survey questions could be used in a self-report of levels of intrinsic motivation to further clarify research. There are other ways in which intrinsic motivation is measured and could be researched. Specific independent variables to measure are ability (Brophy, 1983, Gottfried, 1983), time spent on task (Brophy, 1985 Gottfried 1983, 1985), feelings of efficacy (Gottfried, 1983, Schunk, 1991, Smith, 1994), curiosity in learning (Gottfried, et.al.), desire to select an activity (Brophy, et.al.), and a combination of all these variables (Deci & Ryan, 1985) could be manipulated. The intrinsically motivated student is also more likely to keep concepts in his mind and feel good about taking on learning situations that are beyond his level of comfort or he is unfamiliar with (Poonan,1997).

There are three psychological needs that must be met in order for people to motivate themselves internally (Deci & Ryan, et.al.). The orientations are 1,) Autonomy is the belief that you have the ability to decide how you behave and your decisions will have an impact in your life. Ellington (1981), translates Kant, saying, if autonomy “is not justified all the subordinate principles on it (such as the categorical imperative and the principled of jurisprudence and of ethics) will be questionable. According to Kant, autonomy is the “sole principle of morals,” and this can be “shown by merely analyzing the concept of morality;” 2.) Competency, the decisions in life that are sometimes based on cause and effect and the gaining mastery of a concept oe construct; 3.) Relatedness is a connection to another person, place, or thing. The Sioux words Mitakoye Oyasin relate the philosophy that all things are related. These components are part of what Deci & Ryan (2000) described initially as Self Determination Theory or SDT, a theory of motivation.


By encouraging intrinsic motivation, the educator can help the learner to achieve academic success (Adelman 1978, Adelman & Taylor, 1986, Gottfried, 1985). There is little interest in academic achievement or school when the learner is not interested in a topic, or the domain of the academic performance, or subject of study. Interest is closely related to intrinsic motivation because the orientation of the person towards an object -action (or need) increases and directs the person to the action and need (Deci & Ryan, et.al). Every 60-110 minutes in the brain there are high and low levels where energy and attention vary (Jensen, 2005). These factors determine the amount of time and effort through interest a learner can devote to a task and as an extension academic success.

If an educator could develop the trait of interest further, and that might be the task and challenge, there might be an increase in intrinsic motivation as a basis for learning about a subject or domain of knowledge. The learner would be learning because of, and as a result of pursuing his interest with eagerness; as a result they would learn concepts and constructs without expectations for external rewards. He would be learning because of interest in a learning task, which is being intrinsically motivated.

Children with ADHD have better performance outcomes when there is a high interest. There are motivational aspects, especially “when initial task interest is high and contingencies are abstract and salient and are placed on task participants more so than performance quality,” that indicate providing reinforcement lowers intrinsic motivation (Lepper & Hodell, 1989).

Interest is not limited to childhood but is a part of humanity that can affect well-being in different stages of life (Deci & LaGuardia, in press). Being adults in our society may involve doing tasks that make it necessary to be extrinsically motivated, because of responsibilities of adulthood, for example. The problem has been noted in terms of internalization and integration of values, the taking in and owning of values. (Deci & Ryan, et.al).


Excerpt out of 30 pages


On Intrinsic Motivation
How Motivation Affects Academic Achievement and Learning
Concordia University Portland
Curriculum and instruction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
intrinsic, motivation, affects, academic, achievement, learning
Quote paper
Stephen Grams (Author), 2013, On Intrinsic Motivation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/454948


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