Learning/Memory Motivation Teaching Tools

Episode 29: Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic vs. the Motivation To Learn


You’ve probably heard about the battle between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Well, here’s a new competitor to think about: the concept of the Motivation to Learn. What does this idea have to add to the debate about the best way to get kids to read? What does it have to do with the Bourne Supremacy? Find out this week on The Psych Files.


Resources for this Podcast

  • The book by Ellen Langer that contains the example regarding birth control is not Mindfulness (although that is one of her books), but rather this book by her: The Power of Mindful Learning


Motivation to Learn: Why read? Because learning is worthwhile, important

People are naturally drawn to:

    • Puzzles: what would happen if you: went outside your spacecraft without a suit (“Moonraker” vs. “2001”)? Dropped a feather and a brick from the same height? If you were swinging a weight on the end of a string and the string broke. Everyday example: the “Bourne Supremacy”. The concept of the movie pulls you in: you wake up, don’ know where you are or who you are, yet you seem to have the ability to kill people, and people seem to be out to kill you – why?
    • Interesting questions: Why did the dinosaurs die out?
    • Problems: the scene from “Apollo 13”: “We gotta make one of these… out of this”
    • Open-ended questions: Instead of asking “Can you”, ask “How could you”. Langer author of “Mindfulness”: Can you make a birth control pill that could be inhaled through the nose? Vs. How could you make a birth control pill that could be inhaled through the nose?
    • Contradictions: “Opposites attract” vs. “Birds of a feather flock together”
    • Controversy “Did we really land on the moon?” Examine the angles of the shadows, etc.

    • Guessing (with no fear of public embarrassment)



About Author


  1. How Journalists and Advertisers Motivate You to Click | The Psych Files

    September 16, 2007

    […] Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic vs. the Motivation To Learn […]

  2. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    Adrian – thanks so much! I fixed the typo (can’t believe I let that one go for so long). Glad you’re enjoying the podcast and thanks again.

  3. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    just a quick typo note, you wrote in your intro paragraph “You’ve probably heard about the battle between intrinsic and intrinsic motivation.”

    i may be wrong but i think you meant intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

    thanks for the great podcasts; i especially liked the one on sexual orientation and found it insightful.

    keep it up!

  4. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    Martin: I used to think that I might run out of topics, but there’s so much new and interesting research coming out all the time in the field of psychology so the more recent episodes mix in the new research with the key topics in psychology.

  5. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    i have one more question as im listening one by one purley for lesiure, as ur episodes are centered around psychology degrees, will u run out of subjects to cover, and then will u be making episodes on specific non degree related areas.

  6. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    Persistence pays off Martin. When I started this podcast about 3 1/2 years ago it’s true that not too many people – maybe 100 or so – listened to or watched the episodes. But I just kept making them because psychology is the thing I’m really interested in. Today over 15,000 people listen to or watch each episode so that’s quite gratifying. It can take a while for word to spread but if you love what you do and you produce good, interesting stuff then people will find you on the web.

  7. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    i like how u make the podcasts regardless of how many people see it. as a graphics hobbyists itd frustrating waiting weeks on ends for any comments but i do it anyway because i enjoy it , and im glad ur making your podcasts as those few people who do see it will appreciate ur effort

  8. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    Wanted to comment on this, even though it is two years too late… I was an avid reader from 1st to 5th grade – until they introduced a program call “A.R Reading” which said for a grade you must read books, take tests on the books to score points and oh by the way you have to read in a certain “level.” I learned to hate reading from this even though they also introduced pizza parties and bowling at 100 point and what not.

    I have since learned to love reading, again (I’m a terribly slow reader, but my comprehension is great) but I believe that extrinsic rewards as far as a reading motivation is a fail… but that was for someone who enjoyed reading, maybe if they had just applied it to those who didn’t read.

  9. Avatar


    September 16, 2007

    On visualizing unusual things: being asked to see chemical compounds as floating and reacting coloured blobs in the air. The speaker believed that this visualization would help out artists– tailoring visualizations to suit specific interests is definitely a cool thing, but that particular i.e. didn’t work with me. Too abstract!

    Extrinsic awards would definitely help students keep on track throughout the term. Attendance and reading completion rewards for i.e. discourage skipping and cramming. Rewarding even superficial learning helps with confidence, because it at least keeps course material familiar. Confidence is a good thing to have when an intrinsic task comes up!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like

Development Learning/Memory

Episode 2: Rewards and Punishments

Do you believe in spanking children to get to them to behave? There is a lot of controversy, discussion and

Episode 11: What Does Your Bowling Style Say About You?

In this video episode we look at what your bowling style says about you and how behaviorists can explain your