The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes

Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan

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874 Scopus citations


The chapter discusses the empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. Intrinsically motivated behaviors, motivated by the underlying need for competence and self-determination, are investigated in a variety of ways at the physiological, psychological, and operational levels. One of the two general approaches; the incongruity theories and the competence and/or self-determination theories generally guides those focused on the psychological level. The chapter presents the performance-contingent rewards that actually enhance intrinsic motivation when administered in a way that places emphasis on effective performance rather than on reward acquisition. The research literature that explored the nature of intrinsic motivation and the effects of rewards and controls on intrinsic motivation highly support the competence and self-determination formulation of intrinsic motivation and also the propositions of cognitive evaluation theory. The results of individual studies provided the basis for greater understanding of the phenomena and greater specificity of the theory. Understanding of motivational processes is critical for explicating and predicting human behavior as well as a variety of interrelated beliefs, attitudes, and affects, the complex referred to as motivational subsystems. The chapter also describes a field study conducted in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades of four elementary schools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-80
Number of pages42
JournalAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1980

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
'Preparation of this chapter was facilitated by Research Grant MH 28600 from the National Institute of Mental Health to the first author.


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