Intrinsic Motivation and its effects on Student Academic Achievement

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Education Articles

Motivation 101

Schools across the nation are experiencing ever-increasing pressure to raise student test scores. In order to meet the growing demands of student achievement, educators at all levels have created and implemented strategic plans that focus on adult controlled variables such as professional development and the purchasing of computer-based learning programs. However, perhaps the most significant factor in determining student achievement is simply student motivation. Motivation is one of the most widely-studied areas in the field of psychology and its implications in the field of education are apparent. Psychologists have established two major concepts in regards to motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is described as an outside force influencing an individual’s behavior. These types of motivators can be effective in helping students meet short-term goals, but have a tendency to make students depended on rewards. Examples of such motivators include stickers, trophies, extended break, and even money. Students who perform for the sole purpose of being rewarded by an outside variable, often times lose focus on why overall academic success is important. For extrinsically motivated students, their goal is to be rewarded for their efforts, rather than the results of their efforts, the learning itself, act as the reward.

The other major motivational concept is intrinsic motivation. Psychologists explain intrinsic motivation as when an individual completes an activity for the basic enjoyment of the activity, or understands the underlying value of the activity. Students who are intrinsically motivated to complete tasks see the value in the activity itself and are not reliant on an outside reward for their efforts. There are many theories concerning the concept of intrinsic motivation, but one that has recently gained momentum is the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

Implications of Intrinsic Motivation within the Classroom

The Self-Determination Theory was established by Ed Deci, professor of psychology at Rochester University. According to Deci, this theory represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality (Deci, 1995). SDT identifies three specific areas which directly influence intrinsic motivation levels. These areas include: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Deci argues that these are essential needs of all learners and as the degree to which these needs are fulfilled, the degree of intrinsic motivation will also rise. Intrinsic motivation has the ability to foster lifelong learning skills (Messali, 2010). Deci agrees with the importance of intrinsic motivation and has consequently, created an instrument to evaluate student levels of intrinsic motivation: the Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SRQ-A).

Being a school administrator myself, student motivational levels, and more importantly student achievement levels are a priority. The study of intrinsic motivation and its effects on academic achievement, naturally posed the question: Is there a positive correlation between student’s level of intrinsic motivation and their academic performance?


In the spring of 2010 a study was completed that dealt with academic achievement and intrinsic motivation. Sixty 7th and 8th grade students from a rural middle school in Kentucky completed the SRQ-A evaluation tool. Students were randomly selected from two distinct groups: students with a 2.5 grade point average or below, and students with a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) or above. The purpose of the study was to determine if a positive correlation exists between the intrinsic motivational levels as determined by the SRQ-A tool and student academic achievement as evidenced by GPA.


The average GPA of the 60 students was 2.72 and the average SRQ-A score was 13.9. The numbers changed dramatically when examining the two distinct subgroups. The top 30 students had an average GPA of 3.67 and a SRQ-A score of 17.8. The bottom 30 students had an average GPA of 1.76 and a SRQ-A score of 10.1. A correlation test was applied to the two variables to measure the relationship between intrinsic motivation and academic achievement. The results indicated a positive correlation of .891, meaning that there was an 89 percent chance that the variables of GPA and SRQ-A data were related. The data suggests a close relationship exists between academic achievement and intrinsic motivation.

In a field which values data-driven decisions, this study assuredly indicates that schools would benefit from focusing more time and energy on increasing student intrinsic motivation. In some respects, intrinsic motivation can be thought of as a precursor to increasing academic performance. Schools should make every effort to implement teaching strategies and create an atmosphere which fosters intrinsic motivation. As test score requirements rise with each passing year, educators must seek every advantage possible to raise student performance levels and according to this study, intrinsic motivation plays a significant role in our future success.

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