Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

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Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

In this video, I’m going to talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and why you need to try to maximise your customers’ intrinsic motivation.

So, what are these two types of motivation?

A good illustration is an experiment by a psychologist called Uri Gneezy at the University of California. Gneezy was working with some nurseries who had a problem with parents picking up their kids late. It had got so bad that the nursery was having to pay staff overtime every day to stay there beyond the official closing time, and it was really eating into their profits badly.

So they decided to charge a fine of £5 per day for every late pick-up. Obviously, they thought this would reduce the number of after-hours pick-ups, but actually, they increased.

And once they’d increased, there was no going back. They took away the fines, but the late pick-ups didn’t go back down – they stayed even higher than they had been in the first place.

What went wrong here? Before the fines, parents had intrinsic motivation to pick up their kids on time. This is internal motivation – motivation for their own personal internal reasons: “I want to pick up my kids on time because it’s the right thing to do. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t want to upset my kids and who doesn’t want to inconvenience the people who work so hard to look after them. In short, I want to pick up my kids on time because I want to pick my kids up on time.”

But when they brought in the fines, their motivation shifted to extrinsic motivation. This is when something outside of you is causing the motivation: “I’d better pick up my kids in time or otherwise this outside thing – this £5 fine – will come crashing down upon me”.

And once parents had switched to extrinsic motivation – picking up their kids on time to avoid the fine – they never switched back.

You might think this is just a quirk of parents and nurseries. But it’s not. There was a meta-analysis that looked at over 100 studies, and it found that – whatever the task – paying people to do it decreased their intrinsic motivation to do it (and this was even more true for children – so don’t be tempted to pay yours to eat their greens or do their homework).

What this means for your website is that you need to think very carefully before giving special offers, discounts and so on. You want your customers to purchase from your site because they want to (intrinsic motivation), not because they feel compelled to take advantage of a one-time offer (extrinsic motivation).

As the nursery example shows, once your customer’s motivation has switched from intrinsic to extrinsic, it stays there. So, when there’s no extrinsic motivation – i.e., no special offer – he or she won’t buy.

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