Intrinsic Motivation: It’s Fundamentals

Definition of Intrinsic Motivation

A Hungarian television set from 1959. Image by Takkk
A Hungarian television set from 1959. Image by Takkk

We understand extrinsic motivation much more than intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation address the forces that exist within the black box of the mind. It’s like try to describe the insides of the television by looking at the screen.


Cognitive Motivational Theories Worth Knowing

“Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not need money.” — Murray Johannsen


In stark contrast to the behavioral school of thought, there are many motivational theories within cognitive psychology. These theories take into account factors such as:
    • Needs,
    • Beliefs,
    • Scripts,
    • Schemas,
    • Volition,
    • Attitudes,
    • Values etc.
However, when it comes to building motivational skills, there are three worth knowing something about: needs for achievement,  equity theory, and expectancy theory. 

Theory 1: Need For Power, Affiliation, and Achievement

McClelland (1961) felt that certain needs are not preprogrammed into the body via the genes, but learned from the environment. We learn to affiliate (or not affiliate), how to exercise power, and how to be achievement oriented. This means we can teach need for achievement, something associated with success in various fields of endeavor. It’s believed, for example, that it is one of the primary motive forces driving entrepreneurs to start a business.

2. Equity Theory

Adam’s (1963) lays the groundwork to understand why people perceive something as fair or unfair. This is a most serious issue for leaders and managers, not to appear to have favorites and to treat people in such a way that they believe they are treated fairly.

3. Expectancy Theory

Proposed by Vroom (1964) this approach focuses on the beliefs that influence effort, outcomes, and performance. For example, when if one believes that one’s efforts result in a certain level of performance associated with a desired reward, one likely take action. Of course, the exact opposite is also true. A low correlation between effort, performance and reward breeds inaction.

Motivation Essentials: Three Needs You Must KnowMastery_The_boyhood_of_Mozart

These are powerful learned motivations—powerful enough that they will drive your choice of careers and ultimately influence the degree of success you have in the world. Discover more about these three very important needs in this video series.

• The Need for Power,

• The Need for Affiliation, and

• The Need for Achievement.

Videos in the Series:

Video 1: Three Critically Important Needs You Need to Understand (Time 12:15)

Video 2: Need ForAffiliation (Understanding The Nature of Affiliation) (Time: 5:50)

Video 3: The Need For Power (All About Power: Why You and Others Find is so Seductive) (Time: 33.40)

Video 4: The Need For Achievement (Time: 36:50)



Adams, John S. (1963). Toward an understanding of inequity. Journal of Abnormal and, Social Psychology67(5), 422-436.

Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Degaura, Josephine (2001). David McClelland: Three Needs Theory.

Franken, Robert (2007). Human Motivation, 6th Edition., Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

McClelland, D.C. (1961). The Achieving Society. New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in personality. New York: Oxford University Press

McNerney, Same (2012). Ego Depletion, Motivation and Attention: A New Model of Self-Control, September 12.

Redmond, Brian (2013). Equity Theory Overview. Wikispace Penn State University.

Schmidt, Charles (N.D.). Motivation: Expectancy Theory. Labor Research Center, University of Rhode Island.

Vroom, V. (1964). Work and motivation. New York, NY: Wiley.


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