Intrinsic Motivation Theory

The easiest place to start in understanding the meaning of "intrinsic motivation" is the dictionary. According to the Collins English Dictionary (2014), intrinsic refers to “the essential nature of a thing;” something that is inherent. And motivation is the “desire to do; interest or drive; incentive or inducement.”  If these are then combined, we understand intrinsic motivation to be something that is inherent to a person as an essential part of their nature, that is an internal incentive or drive to act in a certain way.  People who act out of intrinsic motivation to do so without any need for external rewards. Rather, they act out of a desire to actualize who they are and realize their potential.

Throughout history philosophers, writers and scholars interested in human nature have acknowledged that something inside people causes differences in the way they act and behave. This concept is most often referred to as the temperament of a person, and is often assigned to four categories.  The table below outlines some of the major historical authors on this topic and the categories they assigned to this concept.


These temperaments build the foundation for the concept of intrinsic motivation, and explain the widely accepted notion that people have internal qualities and characteristics that influence their behavior. 

Paul of Tarsus, a scholar and philosopher from the first century Christian era, was an accomplished student of Greek, Roman and Jewish traditions.  He was, no doubt, well versed in the ideas of Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle.  He was also a keen observer of human nature.  Based on his observations, he proposed seven categories of intrinsic motivations that he believed were spiritual forces that compelled people in the way they were designed to relate to each other.  He believed that the best example of this occurred when these motivations were manifested in acts of service to other people.

Dr. Bill Millard utilized Paul's seven forces to begin his investigation of intrinsic motivation.  Rather than trying to separate the seven, as the scholars working with temperaments had done with their four categories, Millard proposed that true intrinsic motivation was best understood as the level of interaction among the seven forces.  Beginning in the late 1970s, he conducted some of the most thorough contemporary research and application of this theory.  He started his work with high school adolescents and later expanded it to encompass adults as well. Since his earliest work, Millard has assessed thousands of individuals.

To aid in his investigations, Millard developed the Intrinsic Motivation Assessment Guide & Evaluation (IMAGE) as a method for identifying the strength of each of the seven motivations in an individual and the pattern of interaction among the seven different intrinsic motivations working within individuals. He has found that each person has a unique pattern, emphasizing the nature of gifting and the specialness of human beings. Within a short amount of time, the IMAGE tool moved beyond research to become a personal exploration tool that could be used to enable people to 1) better understand themselves, 2) plan for their lives, 3) improve relationship skills, 4) identify roles with which they would be most comfortable when they are in group situations, 5) evaluate career decisions, and 6) act more effectively in service to their culture and society around them.



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