The Overjustification Effect: Why Extrinsic Incentives Can Undermine Intrinsic Motivation in Education, Sports, and the Workplace

overjustification effect

if parents start rewarding their child with extrinsic rewards, that child’s intrinsic motivations will be squashed

The overjustification effect refers to a phenomenon where the introduction of extrinsic motivators (such as rewards or incentives) for an activity that an individual previously enjoyed doing for its own sake, results in a decrease in intrinsic motivation for that activity. Essentially, the individual begins to view the activity solely as a means to an end – obtaining the reward – rather than enjoying the activity for its own inherent satisfaction.

This effect has been observed in a wide range of contexts, such as in education, sports, and workplace environments. For example, in schools, the use of extrinsic rewards – such as prizes or certificates – to incentivize academic performance can actually lead to a reduction in students’ intrinsic motivation to learn. This is because the rewards can shift the focus from the enjoyment of learning and the satisfaction of achieving mastery, to simply obtaining the external rewards.

Similarly, in workplace environments, the use of bonuses or other financial incentives can sometimes lead to a decrease in employees’ intrinsic motivation and sense of fulfillment from their work.

There are some strategies that can be used to avoid the overjustification effect. For instance, offering non-tangible rewards -such as public recognition- or ensuring that the extrinsic rewards don’t overshadow the inherent enjoyment of the activity can help maintain intrinsic motivation.

Overall, understanding the overjustification effect can be important in designing effective incentives and motivation strategies, and in promoting intrinsic motivation and engagement in a wide range of activities.

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