Landing : Athabascau University

Multiple types of motives don't multiply the motivation of West Point cadets

Interesting study analysing the relationship between internal vs instrumental (the author's take on intrinsic vs extrinsic) motivation as revealed in entry questionnaires for West Point cadets and long-term success in army careers. As you might expect, those with intrinsic motivation significantly outperformed those with extrinsic motivation on every measure.

What is particularly interesting, however, is that extrinsic motivation crowded out the intrinsic in those with mixed motivations. Having both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is no better than having extrinsic motivation on its own, which is to say it is virtually useless. In other words, as we already know from hundreds of experiments and studies over shorter periods but herein demonstrated for periods of over a decade, extrinsic motivation kills intrinsic motivation. This is further proof that the use of rewards (like grades, performance-related pay, and service awards) in the hope that they will motivate people is an incredibly dumb idea because they actively demotivate. 


  • I also found this artcile interesting and thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    I'm not sure that the article substantiates your claim at the end.  It is true that theose who entered WestPoint with internal motivation outperfomed and lasted longer than those with external motivations. However the authors state "The lagged nature of the research design used here does not allow for the explanation of additional variance that would surely result from measuring changes in the motivational arcs of cadets during the interim years that unfolded following their entry to West Point." Indicating that they had no data on how the offering of rewards or stimulating internal motivations during the educational experience (as they give examples in the conclusion) would really help.  However, the argument is LIKELY to stand as it seems to have construct validity at least, but needs empirical validation.

    Terry Anderson November 3, 2014 - 11:39am

  • That's a fair point - I should have said that it is supportive of the argument rather than proof of it. A number of the papers referred to in the text do actually prove the point, though. For example, A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation from 1999 offers 128 studies that demonstrate the dangers of extrinsic rewards in numerous contexts. Further work over the last 15 years from the likes of Ariely, Kohn, Deci and Gneezy (and a cast of thousands) has strongly confirmed this though, as the paper suggests, most often in controlled experiments and seldom over longer periods than a few months.

    Jon Dron November 3, 2014 - 12:23pm

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