Intrinsic motivation refers to when we feel compelled to do something for internal reasons, such as when a task interests us (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the need to do something for external reasons, such as meeting a deadline or wanting approval.
Knowing how to identify intrinsic motivation can be very useful in the following contexts:
- Designing incentives to reward people, such as in the workplace or classroom
- Understanding how different incentives affect people differently
- Identifying candidates who are intrinsically motivated
In this post, we review various tools that you can use to measure intrinsic motivation.
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This Article Contains:
Measuring Intrinsic Motivation: 8 Useful Tests & Questionnaires
There are two general approaches to measuring intrinsic motivation (Harackiewicz, 1979).
In laboratory studies, intrinsic motivation is measured in task-specific ways. For example, Harackiewicz (1979) measured intrinsic motivation for puzzle solving in the laboratory. In the experiment, intrinsic motivation was inferred from:
- Self-report measures of enjoyment for the experiment task measured immediately after the task and then again one month later
- The time that participants dedicated to the task
- Participants’ willingness to return for subsequent experiment sessions
- The number of extra puzzles that participants asked to complete
- Participants immediately returning to a task even when there was no reward
- Participants offering to return to the laboratory for subsequent sessions
In field studies, measurements of intrinsic motivation are domain specific. For example, different tools are used when measuring motivation in the classroom versus in industry.
Knowing that different studies use different measurements of intrinsic motivation, here is a list of resources curated from the literature.
Ryan and Connell (1989) detailed the development of various self-regulation questionnaires across various domains including academia, exercising, and learning.
Ryan and Connell (1989) posited a model to explain people’s perception of the origin of their motivation to perform certain tasks or behaviors, and arranged these motivational reasons (loci of control) on a continuum.
The types of possible motivational origins were:
- External reasons – for example, my boss wants it done
- Introjected reasons – for example, self-motivated reasons that were related to self-esteem
- Identification reasons – for example, stemming from self-generated goals
- Intrinsic reasons – for example, tasks performed for pleasure
From numerous motivational interviews with key sample groups (e.g., teachers, students, and volunteers), Ryan and Connell (1989) developed a set of behaviors integral to each domain and an example of responses that matched each type of motivation.
For example, a behavior typical of a classroom setting is completing homework. For the question “Why do you complete your homework?” example responses include (Ryan & Connell, 1989, p. 752):
- Because I’ll get in trouble if I don’t (external motivation)
- Because I want the teacher to think I’m a good student (introjection motivation)
- Because I want to understand the subject (identification motivation)
- Because it’s fun (intrinsic motivation)
The developed questionnaires demonstrated good validity and correlated well with other tools that measured similar phenomena, such as scales of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in academic domains.
Since then, many versions of the questionnaires have been developed:
- Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Prosocial Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Treatment Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Learning Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Exercise Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Religion Self-Regulation Questionnaire
- Friendship Self-Regulation Questionnaire
The questionnaires, instructions, and scoring manuals are available for free from the Center for Self Determination. You need to sign up as a member to access the materials, but membership is free.
Situational Motivation Scale
If you want to measure intrinsic as well as other forms of motivation posited by Deci and Ryan (1985), then consider using the Situational Motivation Scale.
Guay, Vallerand, and Blanchard (2000) developed the Situational Motivation Scale in response to the need for a standardized set of questions to measure motivation. At this stage, most studies observed how much time participants spent on a task or used self-report measures to measure intrinsic motivation.
At that time, the self-report measures typically used were ill suited to in-field studies or limited to only intrinsic motivation. The scale was measured in five experiments, and the authors found that the items in the scale reliably loaded onto four sub-domains: intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, external regulation, and amotivation. In total, there are 16 items, and the respondent indicates the degree to which they agree with each item on a scale from 1 to 7.
The full scale and the instructions for administration and scoring are listed in the original manuscript (Guay et al., 2000).
5 Helpful Inventories & Scales
Intrinsic motivation inventories for the workplace
If your clients are employees, then you will find the Work Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation Scale (WEIMS; Tremblay, Blanchard, Taylor, Pelletier, & Villeneuve, 2009) useful.
The WEIMS was originally developed as L’Inventaire des Motivations au Travail de Blais (Blais, Brière, Lachance, Riddle, & Vallerand, 1993) and then translated from French into English. The WEIMS comprises 18 items, with an equal number of items dedicated to six sub-domains: intrinsic motivation, four different types of regulations, and amotivation.
Each item describes a particular behavior, and responses are made using a Likert scale from 1 to 7, where ‘1’ indicates that the behavior does not correspond at all, and ‘7’ shows that the behavior corresponds exactly.
Tremblay et al. (2009) tested and validated the scale in three studies and consistently found evidence of good psychometric properties across various types of industries such as healthcare, military, retail, and service.
The scale can be downloaded from ResearchGate.
A second useful scale is the Multidimensional Work Motivation Scale (Gagné et al., 2015).
From its original 55 items, the scale was tested and refined until only the highest factor loadings were retained, resulting in a 19-item scale.
One strength of this scale is that it has been tested and retested across various cultures and languages, including in China, France, Senegal, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Indonesia, Canada, and Belgium.
The scale assesses six dimensions: amotivation, social extrinsic regulation, material extrinsic regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and intrinsic motivation.
This scale is available in the original manuscript.
A third scale that measures workplace satisfaction and motivation is the Work-Related Flow inventory (WOLF; Bakker, 2008). This inventory is different from the previous inventories in that it measures ‘flow,’ an experience of deep engagement and enjoyment while performing a particular task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).
Flow is closely related to intrinsic motivation; in fact, intrinsic motivation is one of its defining characteristics. If a client doesn’t experience flow, they may not be intrinsically motivated to perform a particular task.
The WOLF inventory consists of 13 items, and five of them specifically measure intrinsic motivation. Clients are asked to indicate on a 7-point scale the frequency that they have experienced each item in the last two weeks.
By using a two-week period, it is possible to track your client’s intrinsic motivation over time and identify trends and patterns in their motivation and behavior.
The full scale is available in the original manuscript.
Measuring intrinsic motivation in the classroom
If you are interested in measuring intrinsic motivation in the classroom, then you can use the Scale of Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Orientation in the Classroom (Harter, 1981).
In this scale, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are considered opposite poles, which forms the underlying assumption of the five sub-domains measured. Specifically, the scale includes questions about:
- Motivation to learn, contrasting curiosity with satisfying the teacher
- Motivation to work, contrasting enjoyment with the need for good grades
- Work preference, contrasting difficult work with easy work
- Work style preference, contrasting working independently with working alongside a teacher
- Measures of success, contrasting internal measures of success with external measures of success
The scale was originally validated on third- through sixth-graders (Harter, 1981), but the revised tool can be administered to children between 8 and 18 years old.
The scale format has been designed to reduce socially desirable responses, a common concern when working with children. Respondents are presented with two contrasting descriptions of an example child and are asked (1) which description best resembles them, and (2) the degree of this resemblance. There are 30 items in the scale.
A second scale was constructed that teachers can use to evaluate children in their classroom, consisting of 10 items.
These two scales, scoring instructions, and information about their psychometric properties are in the manual, which can be downloaded from Professor Susan Harter’s website.
11 Questions to Ask Your Clients
Intrinsic motivation has typically been measured in two ways:
- Domain-specific questionnaires
- Task-specific measures
In domain-specific questionnaires, types of motivation are measured by questions that specifically ask about ‘why’ the respondent is performing a specific task. Responses that describe internal motivations, the absence of external pressure, and enjoyment indicate intrinsic motivation.
For example, when asked why they perform their homework, children who respond that the homework is fun show intrinsic motivation.
Knowing this, when speaking to your client, aim to determine the source of their motivation to perform certain tasks. We can infer evidence of intrinsic motivation from answers such as:
- “I enjoy x.”
- “I find x interesting.”
- “X is fun.”
The Center for Self Determination curated the different questions used in various experiments, available on their website. These questions were typically asked after participants completed the tasks of interest in the studies.
Using these questions as a guideline, here are some revised questions you can ask your client:
- How did you experience the task? Was the task fun, enjoyable, interesting, exciting, stimulating?
- Was the task boring?
- Was it easy to pay attention to the task? Did you find the task engaging?
- How did it feel to complete the task? Did it feel like it took long, or did the time fly by?
While talking to your client, look for evidence of metacognitive processes and experiences during the task. An example is your client describing that they remember thinking about how enjoyable the task was while performing it.
If your client is discussing an interaction with another person, then tailor your questions to ask about the interaction or the people with whom they interacted.
- How did you experience the interaction/person? Was the interaction/person fun, enjoyable, interesting, exciting, stimulating?
- Was the interaction/person boring?
- Was it easy to pay attention to the interaction/person? Did you find the interaction/person engaging?
Look for evidence of motivation and excitement after the interaction. For example, did your client feel ‘inspired’ to do something afterward?
PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources
At PositivePsychology.com, you will find several helpful resources that tackle motivation.
There is a short version (9 items) and a long version (17 items) of the survey, and higher scores on both indicate more work engagement. Some questions in this survey specifically ask about intrinsic motivation, for example:
- “Time flies when I’m working.”
- “I am immersed in my work.”
- “I feel happy when I am working intensely.”
Clients indicate the frequency that they have experienced each statement on a scale from 0 to 6, and higher values show greater frequency. Scoring and interpretation are included in the appendix for the tool.
If you want to work with your client to improve their motivation, then we recommend the Motivational Vision Board. It is a creative task where clients construct a visual representation of their desired future goals. Before constructing the board, you will work with your client to identify the motivations behind and benefits of achieving this particular goal.
Our article about motivation tools includes a set of questions that you can use to help your client complete the vision board. Once your client better understands why they want to achieve this goal, they can begin construction.
If your client is a teacher or learner, then look at the Internalized Motivation in the Classroom tool. Designed as a group exercise, this tool takes approximately 30 minutes to administer. It can be administered to an entire class of students or used in an individual setting.
Students are asked to reflect on their motivation to perform well academically and to show their agreement with a set of motivational reasons. The reasons provided reflect the different types of motivation posited by Deci and Ryan (1985). Once completed, the results are explained in conjunction with the Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985).
The Daily Motivational Awareness tool is a five-minute intervention tool that you can implement in your sessions with your client, or that your client can implement on their own. The tool centers on increasing intrinsic motivation awareness about why a client likes to perform certain tasks.
By asking the following three questions, clients gain insight into their behavior:
- What am I doing?
- Why am I doing this?
- Where is it taking me?
This tool can easily apply to multiple tasks that clients become involved with at various stages of their lives and is very useful for clients who find that they have taken on too much work.
A Take-Home Message
Intrinsic motivation is defined by enjoying a task and feeling stimulated, with an internal motivation to complete the job at hand. These are the golden threads that connect these inventories.
The difficulty with simply asking your client to reflect on ‘why’ they are performing a particular task is that their reasons may seem internal to them.
Therefore, inventories that measure different types of motivations shed more light on what is driving your client’s decision making. Using the results of the inventory, you and your client can further explore their motivations, decision making, and behavior, and tackle any unhealthy influences.
Recognize that there may be many reasons why clients may not feel intrinsically motivated about particular tasks. For example, stressful deadlines, toxic work environments, or too much work can all contribute to clients feeling unmotivated. Use the results from the inventories to explore your client’s feelings and identify obstacles that can be removed or improved.
Hopefully, after gaining insight into their current life circumstances and motivations, you can help your client foster an internal love for things that are important to them.
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- Blais, M. R., Brière, N. M., Lachance, L., Riddle, A. S., & Vallerand, R. J. (1993). L’Inventaire des Motivations au Travail de Blais [The Blais Inventory of Work Motivation]. Revue Québécoise de Psychologie, 14(3), 185–215.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Hachette UK.
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- Gagné, M., Forest, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Crevier-Braud, L., Van den Broeck, A., Aspeli, A. K., … Westbye, C. (2015). The Multidimensional Work Motivation Scale: Validation evidence in seven languages and nine countries. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 24(2), 178–196.
- Guay, F., Vallerand, R. J., & Blanchard, C. (2000). On the assessment of situational intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS). Motivation and Emotion, 24(3), 175–213.
- Harackiewicz, J. M. (1979). The effects of reward contingency and performance feedback on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(8), 1352–1363.
- Harter, S. (1981). A new self-report scale of intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation in the classroom: Motivational and informational components. Developmental Psychology, 17(3), 300–312.
- Ryan, R. M., & Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalization: Examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(5), 749–761.
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67.
- Tremblay, M. A., Blanchard, C. M., Taylor, S., Pelletier, L. G., & Villeneuve, M. (2009). Work Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation Scale: Its value for organizational psychology research. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue Canadienne des Sciences du Comportement, 41(4), 213–226.