The Science of Motivation

On Day 7 and 8 this week (Wednesday and Thursday), we’re going to think a little bit about what motivates us in school: why do we study for important assessments? Why do we turn in homework on-time? Why do we care about what shows up on Powerschool or our report cards? This may be the most important thing we think about this year, because motivation is key to all learning.

All students (all people, really)  are motivated by different things. In school, some work hard mostly for reasons that come from inside them. They study because they enjoy learning new things;  or because they want to prepare themselves for what comes next–high school, university, their future careers; or  because they find it satisfying to overcome challenges. Motivation that comes from inside us is called intrinsic motivation.

Other students work hard mostly for reasons that come from outside them. They study hard because they like to get praise or rewards from their teachers; or because they want to make their parents happy; or because they want to avoid ‘getting in trouble.’  Motivation that comes from outside us is called extrinsic motivation.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work, and most of us are motivated by a mix of things. But there is some interesting research that suggests that extrinsic motivators (e.g., rewards and punishments) work better for mechanical, boring things, while intrinsic motivators (e.g., working hard because it is satisfying to do a job well) work better for things involving creativity and higher level thinking–much of what we do in school.

For example, rewarding people with money for picking up trash is likely to result in them picking up more trash. But rewarding people with money to become great writers or to solve high level math problems, is not likely to be effective. This may seem hard to believe, but this video by Daniel Pink explains some of the research and reasons why this is true. (If you’d prefer to read about these ideas, you can look here.)

So what mostly motivates you as a student? Which are more important to you, extrinsic motivators or intrinsic motivators? Share your thinking in the comments below.

58 thoughts on “The Science of Motivation

  1. I feel motivated of my work because i feel confident after I have finished it. Also I feel motivated when my parents are supporting me when I am struggling becuase it makes me thing that I can do it,

    • This is great, Vedaa. Feeling confident seems like a feeling of ‘mastery’ to me. Also, it’s nice when you feel supported by your parents to work hard–parents are really important, aren’t they?

  2. For me as a studednt what motvate me so my work is mostly internal because when i finish my work or do it it makes me feel good about it. And when i finish homework its motviate me finishing a nether work and i feel good after all my homework. For exsample if my pernts motvate and say Roni if you finish your work then you have “free time” so i tried so finish it as fast as i can to have it done.

    • It does feel good when we finish what we start out to finish, doesn’t it? That’s mastery, I think. Also, it’s great to have your parents there to remind you that when you finish your homework, you get free time, which is autonomy or independence.

  3. I do my homework because I like to and I don’t want to gather all the homework together and do it all at once because it takes a long time to finish all.

    • I agree it feels good to get your homework done in small pieces rather than one big work. If you keep doing that, it will really help you!

  4. For me I just feel great because everything is done (homework) and I get to have some free time or something that motivates me is making my parents happy when I finish

  5. I feel that if don’t do my work i will not get into a good college and also not pass in that class. So that is why i always try my best!!!!!!!!

    • Luke, I’m so glad to hear you do your best. College is something to look forward to, and so is all the learning you will do along the way to college–and after you are finished with college!

  6. What motivates me i get motivated by looking how it’s going to help me in the future how it’s going to help in life and also if my mom tells me to do it

    • Shiv, I think this is a great answer. It’s always good to be motivated by our future and our parents. It also just feels good to get work finished, doesn’t it?

    • It’s great to think of the future, Nasr. But I’m guessing you also feel good when you do a good job–just because it feels good to do a good job!

  7. I am moderated about my grades because it’s so satisfying but I think I am too worried about my grades because when I get a usually for my learning habits I get too stressed and I can’t sleep because last time I couldn’t sleep until midnight 1

    • JaeHun, I’m glad you find success to be satisfying. Try not to be too stressed, though. The science of learning says that a tiny bit of stress can be good. But too much stress can make it harder to learn! Nobody is perfect.

  8. I am motivated to finish my homework or work because afterwards I feel like a weight has been taken off my shoulders. I am also motivated to complete the day of school cause afterwards I get to relax and just chill. Finally I am also motivated in science because we do fun labs most of the time. I am motivated to do all these things because it pleases my parents.

    • Ethan, This is such a thoughtful answer. I love to see how different things motivate you. I think it’s good to realize and reflect on those things.

  9. What motivates me to to my work is the feeling of getting it over with. It also makes me feel confident and comfortable in class because that way I know how to do things meaning I know what’s going on and I can participate.

    • Noa, this is interesting. Working hard does make you feel confident. And getting things finished feels good, I agree!

  10. What motivates me is thinking about the future, what I really want to do. I want to work in Disney in the future and I think I have to prepare by doing my best at school.

  11. What motivates me is my family, they are always trying to help me and be a successful person when I grow up. And another thing that motivates me is my Dad, he is my role model, I look up to him because he worked hard in school and today, personally I think he is a very successful person and he always thinks that I can be better than him. And also working hard in school can pay off later in life because I can hopefully get a job that I like to do and is a good job.

    • Rohan, role models are a great source of motivation. Why not show your dad what you’ve written here? I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

  12. What motivates me is to do my best at school so later in life it will be easier for things like getting into college and getting a job.

  13. I feel motivated when I get a reward, when my parents support me and push me to think positive if I’ve done something wrong and last of all I get motivated if I do something good in class or on my assignments, homework and summatives.

  14. What motivates me is that when I finish homework or project I feel good about it and get freedom to use my free time to do anything I want.

  15. I don’t get motivated very easily as I’m someone that honestly enjoys doing nothing even I come home from school but, something that motivates me to actually begin doing the homework is..once I finish it, it doesn’t have to sit on the back of my mind and stress me out anymore. Also, I just like the feeling of getting it done and having it done the next day.

    • Emma, I really appreciate your honesty. I feel the same way about certain things I have to do: when I get them finished, I just feel less stressed!

  16. My motivations are looking at my parents or my cousin, by looking at their life. I always wants to be successful as them and makes me study hard.

  17. I motivate when I finish my homework and keep track by using google classroom and teacher’s blog. Then I don’t have to worry when teacher ask about our/my homework.

    • Interesting, Faris. So you are motivated because you feel more comfortable in class if you’ve finished your work. That’s a pretty reasonable motivation. I wonder if you also sometimes feel good when you figure out how to do something new…

  18. I deal motivated when I have a lot of energy and I want to get my work done. I also feel motivated if I am into what I am doing.

  19. What motivates me as a student is when I think about if I finish my homework what I can do after I finish because when ever I think about it it motivates me and gets me excited to finish it quick

    • Taiki, I agree. Sometimes it does help to think about what you will do next. But it also feels good to figure out a new skill, doesn’t it?

  20. I get motivated to finish my homework really fast when my mom says that she’s proud of me or when we play something after I’m finished. I get motivated in school when I enjoy something or when I have something after school that I’m happy about .

  21. I get motivated to do work when it is not forced and I’m relaxed because when I’m under pressure and people start to force the work on me I start to hesitate and sometimes I do not do my best work.

    • Interesting, Marvin. I guess you do better if you plan ahead and get the work done before you feel last minute pressure. Is that right?

  22. I am motivated when I finish my homework because it will help me in class and in my future, I ceep track of my homework by listening in class and checking every time I come back home I check google classroom.

  23. I feel motivated when I finished my work or homework and get an prize or reward. When i was young I use to get reward after Imfinished all my work.

    • DongHan, that is interesting. I think as we get older, the feeling of doing a good job often becomes its own reward. Do you feel that way now sometimes?

  24. Usually my mother will ask me if I had any homework or not… But I always done my homework whenever she ask me and sometimes I will do my homework the other day. I didn’t have any missing assignment like last year. So it’s more easier for me to not to think about any homework that I didn’t finish.

    • Seyoung, I agree that it is more relaxing to finish the work we need to do. And it feels good to accomplish what we set out to do, doesn’t it?

  25. My Motivation
    My motivation is when my dad says That he will pay me with a fair amount of money. And when he says he. Will take me out to eat dinner at a restaurant. With my family of course. Or that I can watch a movie with my family. But I would do it anyway because

    • Lincoln, I think family celebrations can be very motivating. I’m glad to read you’d do it anyway. I wonder what motivates you to do work even if you don’t get rewards? It’s an interesting question…

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