The Huron University College Journal of Learning and Motivation

Article Title

The Effects of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation on Cognitive Performance in Humans


Previous research has shown that people are more likely to perform well on a difficult cognitive task compared to an easier cognitive task when they are intrinsically motivated. This finding can be explained by expectancy theory, the idea that behavior is influenced by the expectation of a reward, and that these rewards fall under two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The current study examines the interaction of tasks of varying difficulty and extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and whether these variables play a role in performance on a cognitive task. Friends and family of the researcher completed either an easy or difficult spatial abilities task (the Raven’s Progressive Matrices) and for each correct answer were rewarded with either an extrinsic or intrinsic motivator (a piece of candy or a sticker). No difference was found between participants who were intrinsically or extrinsically motivated on the easy task, however, on the difficult task, intrinsically motivated participants performed slightly better than extrinsically motivated participants. The results did not reach significance. Limitations and future direction for the research are discussed.

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