What is the definition of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards?

Why are they important to, and what is their role in, gamification?

  • $\begingroup$ Please explain the downvote and votes to close. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2013 at 15:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This site was designed to solve the type of intriguing problems you might encounter in your day-to-day work, but unfortunately we're not seeing a lot of that here. The close votes are likely from folks who feel you can simply look up those terms in a Wikipedia article, or ask about what aspect of the concepts you are having trouble understanding. With that in mind, asking simply "what is {x}?" starts to seem more like homework than Q&A. Sorry about the confusion. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2013 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertCartaino, I created this question b/c a lot of questions are demonstrating ignorance of the importance of Intrinsic Rewards specifically in gamification. BTW, I have also followed the meta thread on the need for more real world questions. Hoping to help with that. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2013 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ClayNichols I'm reading this paper rug.nl/gmw/psychology/research/onderzoek_summerschool/firststep/… to create an answer for this question $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Nov 5, 2013 at 16:08

5 Answers 5


Intrinsic Rewards (motivation) These are rewards which are directly of value to the person, rather being something that represents (or could be "traded in") for something to of value.

So getting a badge in and of itself isn't an Intrinsic Reward, but up votes on an answer would be b/c it converts Status and Validation of the user's work. These rewards are also intrinsic to the task. They have not been "bolted on" or "dangled like a carrot" in front of the user.

Extrinsic Rewards (or incentives) are rewards which are not naturally a part of the task. So if you enjoy drawing and I compliment you on the drawing that's intrinsica. If I offer to pay you to draw more, that's extrinsic.

enter image description here from this slideshow.

Extrinsic Incentives are demotivating and, thus, should be avoided in Gamifying a system There is a lot of research that shows that Extrinsic Rewards are demotivating because: They extinguish internal motivation

  • Result in Habituation, requiring higher levels of the External reward to achieve the same effects.

  • Send a message that you think they should not want to do this (why else would you need to bribe them)

  • Seem manipulative

Therefore, Extrinsic Rewards should be avoided. And if you find that your "players" are focused more on the game mechanics than the work then that's a clue that your game mechanics may be offering extrinsic motivation.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting answer and slideshow you linked to. Changes a lot of what I thought about Gamification. $\endgroup$
    – The Feared Novice IT Admin
    Nov 1, 2013 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with the examples you have presented. Intrinsic reward is only and only the emotional pay-off that I get by completing an activity. It does not include your vote ups or appreciation. $\endgroup$
    – user3149
    Nov 2, 2013 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user221287, that's one of the best very simple explanations of intrinsic rewards but I'm wondering if it's a bit too simple. Can you provide any references or further explanation of that? $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2013 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Also, anyone who upvoted this answer, please consider upvoting the question. It got downvoted and voted to close, with no explanation. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2013 at 15:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "So if you enjoy drawing and I compliment you on the drawing that's intrinsica." That is wrong. A compliment is an extrinsic reward. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Nov 9, 2013 at 22:46

I feel that there is a misnomer here... a reward is a reward.
There are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators.

Intrinsic - The feel good motivation you get from within for accomplishing of completing a task. Because it felt good, you want to do more. This could be classified as a reward, but generally speaking an emotional response isn't necessarily a reward. Generally in Gamification a reward is a tangible or virtual gift given to the user for completing a task - an extrinsic component.

Extrinsic - An enticing benefit will be earned/granted if you complete the challenge/task so you follow through to completion to earn the gift. Extrinsic motivators are rewards. One is coaxed into finishing the task because of the reward, not the good feeling of accomplishment.

At the risk of pulling users away from this site, and plopping them down at the newly launched Gamification site, I thought I may post these questions here that directly relate to your question:

I will reuse what I posted on the Gamification site for this answer as it applies here as well. There is a great Ted talk on the "Puzzle of Motivation" by Dan Pink is available. It is a short talk, but it discusses this exact topic. I think you will find it enlightening.

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.


Intrinsic reward is the emotional pay-off that you get by completing an activity.

Extrinsic reward is everything else.

For example, In an real game, the sense of accomplishment that you get after completing a level is intrinsic, all the points and badges are extrinsic rewards.

Introducing Intrinsic rewards in gamification is not trivial, you have make the activity fun, memorable and truly satisfying.

Having said that, extrinsic reward can trigger intrinsic reward. For example, I will get a really great felling of having contributed something great to this site when you vote up on this answer!

  • $\begingroup$ BTW an example of a Gamified system with physical rewards might be Outward Bound where the intrinsic payoff is navigating to shelter, food, water, etc. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2013 at 15:54

According to Frederick Herzberg's two-factor theory of motivation,

intrinsic rewards are motivators (e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility) that give positive satisfaction,

while extrinsic rewards are hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions) that prevent dissatisfaction.

Intrinsic rewards related to the job content (i.e. they are intrinsic to the job), while extrinsic rewards related to job context (they are extrinsic to the job).


1) In Herzberg's theory, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not two extremes along one dimension, but two independent factors:

traditional theory:

       dissatisfaction <------------------------------> satisfaction

Herzberg's theory:

    no dissatisfaction |------------------------------> dissatisfaction
       no satisfaction |------------------------------> satisfaction


Intrinsic motivaton is caused by a intrinsic process ("I like doing this") or an internal self-concept ("I am the kind of person who does this").

Extrinsic motivation is instrumental ("I do this to achieva a goal"), caused by an external self-concept ("People expect me to do this"), or goal internalization ("I must do this for ").

Different terminology is listed here: http://www.uri.edu/research/lrc/scholl/webnotes/Motivation_Sources.htm

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... status seems a bit blurry to me. Isn't at least my perception of my status an internal motivator? And status seems likes something that most people look outside themselves to establish (i.e., it needs to be "where I am amongst the others in the world". $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2013 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Intrinsic: you enjoy doing it; extrinsic: you want the respect of your peers. The respect of your peers is not an intrinsic aspect of what you do. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Nov 11, 2013 at 22:10

This discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation covers most of what you are after.

A reward is intrinsic to an activity if it comes from doing the task itself. A reward is extrinsic if otherwise. The classic extrinsic reward is money. Classic intrinsic rewards are challenge and stimulation.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.