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Feature Entry: Intrinsic Motivation Versus the Ventral Striatum; or Is Extrinsic Motivation Learned or Hardwired
In the MoneyWalker’s last post, a question was raised about the permanent efficacy of extrinsic motivation. The question is especially relevant concerning positive eating and exercise activity in terms of overweight/obese children and youth.
Edward Deci (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991), a self-determination theorist, and his followers would vote no. Deci’s findings support methods that help students to self-motivate also known as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation occurs when individuals internalize values based upon health benefits rather than expected rewards, social recognition, and money. Reward based motivation is labeled extrinsic motivation. Deci’s findings suggest that intrinsic motivation is superior because with extrinsic motivation, once the incentives are removed exercise is reduced; conversely, with intrinsic motivation the value of exercise and diet are internalized and are performed for their own value; thus, persevere as a life-long habit.
So what about the Cooper created FitnessGram? Is it based upon intrinsic or extrinsic motivation principles? By not giving a traditional “grade” to the six areas of fitness including Body Mass Index (BMI),it can construed as intrinsic. However, the green zone/red zone designation is easily converted to extrinsic motivation by perceptive students that quickly assign value to their zone location and compare their scores with others. Glory is a powerful extrinsic motivator, and gaining an optimal BMI green zone placement can result in enhanced peer standing by image conscious children and youth. Note the reaction of Nicole to Harriet Brown’s blog providing negative critique of the FitnessGram: “Wow, that is horrible. Do they have no idea about how vulnerable an 11-year-old girl is?”
But is Deci’s research the last word? Among many studies that refute Deci is Eisenberger et. al. (Psy Bulletin, 1999, vol 125 No. 6) which found that external rewards do not reduce "interest" in tasks for their own sake. Students that received rewards when compared to students taught with intrinsic motivation where not significantly different on reported “interest” on follow-up studies.
Both Eisenberger and Deci’s findings resonate with the MoneyWalker. Motivation for losing weight and keeping it off is hard work and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important for success. In fact the body seems to be hardwired to utilize both types of motivation. Recent neuroscience findings (Elger and Falk, Science Daily, Nov. 23, 2007) report a specific “reward center” in the brain, the Ventral Striatum. The Ventral Striatum reveals high activity when subjects successfully perform difficult attention demanding problems; more so if they receive a reward and even higher activity if competing successfully with others. The Ventral Striatum is the reward seat of extrinsic motivation, not intrinsic. It can be extrapolated that external rewards are necessary for tasks that are considered difficult to achieve, especially in the beginning stages of acquisition.
The MoneyWalker applauds the Cooper Institute and the Texas/Delaware adoptions. The plan by educating and rewarding positive exercise and nutrition behaviors is providing both intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcement to assist our youth to maintain healthy levels of fitness including BMI, both now and into their adulthood.
Budda has a point, but so does Elger and Falk.
Nov. 15, 2010: Weight 175.6 lbs.: Coinage = $2.02, 42 pennies (one wheat), 3 nickels, 7 dimes, 3 quarters; 3 glass bottles; 2 ground scores (eight paperback books on the curb).
Nov. 14, 2010: Weight 176.0 Lbs.; Coinage = $2.88, 63 pennies, 8 nickels, 6 dimes, 5 quarters; 20 glass bottles, 4 ground scores.
Nov. 11, 2010: Weight 176.0 lbs.; Coinage = $3.10, 115 pennies, 6 nickels, 9 dimes, 3 quarters (one super find in the folds of a discarded lounger [1 quarter, 3 dimes, 1 nickel, 3 pennies] and one wheat penny); 20 glass bottles, 7 ground scores.