Extrinsic Rewards: How to Use Them Correctly

People use extrinsic rewards to increase positive behaviors. For example, they are used to motivate kids to behave in class, or employees to act more willingly. In this article, we discuss the meaning of extrinsic rewards, how they can be used to your advantage and the limits that exist when using them.

What are extrinsic rewards?

Extrinsic rewards are benefits that come from the environment and bring joy, pleasure, and value to the receiver. They can motivate a person to continue with behavior because they are interested in obtaining a reward. Motivation is the reason for someone to act.

There are plenty of examples everywhere: Money, food, stickers, grades, bonuses, compliments, points, discounts, and the list goes on. Anything that is making someone happy, and that is coming from the outside of that person can be labeled as an extrinsic reward.

Tangible rewards

Extrinsic rewards are often tangible rewards, such as a salary, bonus, holidays, and material objects. A tangible “prize” can make a person happy because they can see or feel that something good is happening in their life.

Intangible rewards

Some extrinsic rewards are intangible, that is, they cannot be touched, but still, they can make someone happy. This type of reward comes in the form of praise, compliments, and attention. It often makes someone very happy because it helps them feel valued or loved.

Extrinsic rewards

Extrinsic motivation

While motivation is the driver of the behavior, the reward is what follows the behavior. From extrinsic rewards, comes extrinsic motivation. External motivation is the drive to do something for external benefits.

Extrinsic motivation can be a very powerful drive to take an action. It can make people do the most incredible things, but it can also make them do terrible things.

The upside of extrinsic rewards

Extrinsic rewards have a positive effect on people. They make people happier – especially when they work for them. They motivate employees to continue with good behavior and this increases productivity and the quality of the job.

Can help with the needs of the receiver

Extrinsic rewards can help people to meet their needs. When someone has the need to feel loved, valued, appreciated, needed, or noticed, external rewards assist people in obtaining a sense of fulfillment. Material rewards can also help people to meet safety needs, shelter, and food.

Can bring powerful motivation in the short term

When you need to motivate someone quickly, external rewards can be very powerful. They often create a very strong motivation in the short term, but it can disappear as quickly as it was created.

Tangible rewards

The downside of extrinsic rewards

There are a couple of downsides to extrinsic rewards. Below we name some of them:

  • Can manipulate people
  • Crowding out the effect of intrinsic rewards
  • Not long-lasting
  • Don’t create passion
  • Can create stress

Extrinsic rewards can manipulate people

Sometimes extrinsic motivation can lead people to act incoherently, or do things that they normally would not do. However, most people have a moral compass, which tells them when their behavior is wrong or not.

Crowding out the effect of intrinsic rewards

When you give extrinsic rewards, you may crowd out intrinsic motivation. This happens because people start expecting and creating a want for the extrinsic reward, which may lead to their intrinsic reward diminishing. When extrinsic motivation replaces intrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation can disappear when extrinsic motivation goes away.

Extrinsic motivation is not long-lasting

Extrinsic motivation is not long-lasting. It only lasts as long as you are providing the reward. Because most extrinsic rewards are coming from a limited source, the motivation will eventually stop. Also, if people acquire a sense of entitlement because they have been given so many rewards in the past, they may lose their motivation to continue with that behavior or want more rewards.

Extrinsic rewards don’t create passion

Passion comes from intrinsic sources; it comes from the inside of people (their interests, desires, and ideals). Extrinsic rewards cannot motivate someone to do what they are passionate about because this type of motivation comes from within.

Extrinsic rewards can create stress

Stress is linked to lower serotonin and dopamine levels, which makes you less happy. Stress also causes you to be less active because it lowers your serotonin and dopamine levels. Finally, low serotonin and dopamine levels limit learning, memory recall, and creativity. Therefore extrinsic rewards can be bad for tasks that involve strong memory and creativity.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the “force” that comes from inside a person. This type of motivation comes from the desire and interest in doing something. Intrinsic motivation is a drive to do an activity because you want to do it for the enjoyment it gives you. For example, you may like to play basketball because you think it is fun. There is a feeling of autonomy, competence, and control that comes with the intrinsic motivation that people enjoy.

Intrinsic rewards are powerful rewards

People are interested in what they are doing because it meets their needs for autonomy, competence, and control. It is the need to understand the world better, feel competent about things around them, and have a sense of control over their lives that drives people to do something out of interest. When you want to do something because you like or love doing it you are experiencing intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation

Using extrinsic rewards to trigger intrinsic motivation

An important notion is that you can give intrinsic motivation by giving an extrinsic reward. More specifically, you should give someone praise, compliment, or word of encouragement to trigger a sense of autonomy, control, and competence. Characteristics of good praises are:

  • Praising the learning curve
  • Be sincere with your praise
  • Be specific and unique

By giving praise you give the person positive feedback on what they are doing. This creates a want for them to keep doing that activity because it makes them feel good about it. In simple words, they have an increased internal motivation.

Giving praise

A word from Sublime People

Extrinsic rewards can motivate someone quickly. However, they can decrease intrinsic motivation, crowding it out.

Extrinsic rewards can benefit a person because they can cover their basic needs, while intrinsic motivation can reward them with fun and enjoyment. Therefore, an ideal situation would be one in which these two motivations complement each other instead of competing with each other.

Do you think extrinsic rewards are important? Share your thoughts with us!