Intrinsic Motivation

In the Mandt System we begin our discussion of human motivation through the lens of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1943).  At the base of the hierarchy are basic human needs such as food, shelter, etc.  The motivation here is short term survival.  Next up is the need for safety, which includes physical, emotional, and cognitive safety. The person is motivated by mid term survival needs.  Further up the hierarchy is what Maslow referred to as “love and belongingness” needs.  In Mandt, we refer to these as healthy relationship needs.  The motivation at this level is connection to others, which is a long term survival strategy for all social species.  Beyond this stage of the hierarchy is what Maslow called “self esteem” needs.  These are achievement needs.  This stage of the hierarchy is focused on external rewards and may be described as extrinsic motivation. At the top of the hierarchy, Maslow believed that people have self actualization needs.  This is the need for value, meaning and purpose and can be described as intrinsic motivation.

Let’s take a little deeper dive into the concept of intrinsic motivation.  To do so, we’ll step outside of Maslow’s theory and take a look into self determination theory, a more contemporary look at intrinsic motivation.  Self determination theory addresses three innate psychological needs that drive motivation without external compulsion (Ryan & Deci, 2000).  These are:

  • Autonomy: This is the drive to be in control of one’s own life.  The need for autonomy is the need for freedom.
  • Competence:  This is the drive to attain mastery in various domains.  The development of skill is a reward in itself.
  • Relatedness: This is the drive to be connected to others in a way that goes beyond attainment of one’s own needs within the relationship.  It is the will to care for and to help others, and is indicative of the reciprocal nature of relationships.

Maslow gives us a useful tool in his Hierarchy of Needs.  The first levels of need are about survival, safety, relationships, and external drives.  Self determination theory’s deep dive into the idea of intrinsic motivation adds to the bigger picture of motivation from the perspective of humanistic psychology.  At a practical level, those of us who work in the human services field strive not just to help people to get their basic needs met, but also to help people to explore their own intrinsic need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

John Winsdor – Director of Technical Curricula

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation.  Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96.

Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist. 55 (1): 68–78.

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