Monday, February 4, 2008

On the misleading differentiation between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Although various researchers have stressed the problematic character of the differentiation between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation (e.g. Rheinberg, 2004) this terms still are being used in actual motivational discussions (Gächter, 2007). Recently these terms are used to describe processes of "crowding out of intrinsic motivation" (Gächter, 2007, p. 43).

Apart from the generally imprecise character of the differentiation between "inside" and "outside" the use of these terms indicates a fundamental psychological misunderstanding: there is no extrinsic motivation. Motivation can only emerge and exist within the human mind. This notion has already been explained perfectly by Metzger (2001 [1941]).

Here we want to draw attention to two clarifications of this misunderstanding within the context of "flow research". They provide detailed neurologic evidence for the indefensibleness of the differentiation between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation and furthermore show that flow is ultimately no more than the process of dopamin-controlled attention shifting:

Blog article on the relation of flow and "intrinsic motiovation"

General critique on "flow"


Gächter, S. 2007. Conditional Cooperations: Behavioral Regularities from the Lab and the Field and Their Policy Implications. In: Economics and Psychology. A New Cross-Disciplinary Field. Frey, B.S. & Stutzer, A. (Eds.). Cambridge and London: MIT Press

Metzger, W. 2001 (1941). Psychologie – Die Entwicklung ihrer Grundannahmen seit Einführung des Experiments. Wien: Krammer

Rheinberg, F. 2004. Intrinsische Motivation und Flowerleben. Published Online:

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