Self-determination theory and work motivation

Extrinsic motivation and the autonomy continuum Intrinsically motivated behavior, which is propelled by people’s interest in the activity itself, is proto-typically autonomous.

However, an important aspect of SDT is the proposition that extrinsic motivation can vary in the degree to which it is autonomous versus controlled. Activities that are not interesting (i.e., that are not intrinsically motivating) require extrinsic motivation, so their initial enactment depends upon the perception of a contingency between the behavior and a desired consequence such as implicit approval or tangible rewards. Within SDT, when a behavior is so motivated it is said to be externally regulated—that is, initiated and maintained by contingencies external to the person. This is the classic type of extrinsic motivation and is a prototype of controlled motivation.

When externally regulated, people act to obtain a desired consequence or avoid an undesired one, so they are energized into action only when the action is instrumental to those ends (e.g., I work when the boss is watching). External regulation is the type of extrinsic motivation that was considered when extrinsic motivation was contrasted with intrinsic motivation.

Other types of extrinsic motivation result when a behavioral regulation and its associated value have been internalized. Internalization is defined as people taking in values, attitudes, or regulatory structures, such that the external regulation of a behaviour is transformed into an internal regulation and thus no longer requires the presence of an external contingency (thus, I work even when the boss is not watching).

However, although most theories of internalization view it as a dichotomy—that is, a regulation either is external to the person or has been internalized—SDT posits a controlled-to-autonomous continuum to describe the degree to which an external regulation has been internalized. The more fully it has been internalized, the more autonomous will be the subsequent, extrinsically motivated behavior. According to SDT, internalization is an overarching term that refers to three different processes: introjection, identification, and integration.

A regulation that has been taken in by the person but has not been accepted as his or her own is said to be introjected and provides the basis for introjected regulation. With this type of regulation, it is as if the regulation were controlling the person. Examples of introjected regulation include contingent self-esteem, which pressures people to behave in order to feel worthy, and ego involvement, which pressures people to behave in order to buttress their fragile egos (deCharms, 1968; Ryan, 1982). Introjected regulation is particularly interesting because the regulation is within the person but is a relatively controlled form of internalized extrinsic motivation (e.g., I work because it makes me feel like a worthy person).

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