Understanding the Overjustification Effect: When Rewards Undermine Intrinsic Motivation

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Understanding human behavior and psychology is more crucial than ever in the fast-paced world of today. The overjustification effect is an interesting psychological phenomenon that has drawn interest from scholars for decades. This complex idea examines how a person’s innate motivation might occasionally be damaged by extrinsic rewards. The overjustification effect, its causes, ramifications, and how it affects our day-to-day lives will all be covered in this essay.


The overjustification effect is a psychology theory that examines how receiving money, prizes, or other external benefits can unintentionally reduce someone’s intrinsic motivation to do something. It’s a phenomenon that has long piqued the interest of psychologists and academics, illuminating the complexity of human behavior.

Defining the Overjustification Effect

When a person is first motivated to engage in an activity by their true interest or delight (intrinsic motivation), the overjustification effect takes place. However, if external rewards are given, the person may begin to concentrate on the rewards rather than the intrinsic enjoyment of the action. As a result, their intrinsic desire wanes, and they could be less inclined to participate in the activity in the absence of rewards from other sources.

Historical Background

Psychologists Mark Lepper and David Greene conducted the initial research on the over-justification effect in the 1970s. Their groundbreaking research shown that providing too many extrinsic rewards for an activity that is already intrinsically gratifying might cause a person’s intrinsic drive to decrease.

Key Experiments

A series of tests were carried out by Lepper and Greene to show the over-justification effect. They observed children who enjoyed sketching in one famous research. Some of these kids started seeing drawing as a way to get rewards rather than as a fun hobby in and of itself when they started getting paid for their drawings. The kids who received rewards eventually displayed a decline in interest in drawing when awards were no longer given out.

Factors Influencing the Overjustification Effect

The overjustification effect can be influenced by a number of things:

Extrinsic Rewards

The kind and size of extrinsic rewards are quite important. Intangible benefits like praise or recognition are less likely than tangible rewards like money or presents to cause the over-justification effect.

Intrinsic Motivation

It also matters how strong a person’s inner motivation is. Strong intrinsic motivation for a particular task reduces the likelihood of the over-justification effect.

Task Complexity

The task’s intricacy may have an impact on the outcome. Simple actions may be more prone to overjustification since it is simpler to link them to outside incentives.

Real-World Applications

The overjustification effect affects many facets of our lives and has several real-world implications.

Positive and Negative Effects

The phenomenon isn’t necessarily bad. External rewards may occasionally inspire people to begin an activity they otherwise might not have. Overjustification, however, can have long-term effects that diminish genuine interest and intrinsic desire.

Preventing the Over-justification Effect

To avoid the over-justification effect, one must first be aware of it. To reduce the negative effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation, both individuals and organizations can take action.

Overjustification Effect in Education

For educators, it is essential to comprehend this influence. Teachers can strike a balance between encouraging pupils’ genuine interest in learning and rewarding high achievement.

Overjustification Effect in the Workplace

To ensure that rewards in the workplace increase rather than decrease employees’ intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction, employers should be careful how they use awards.

Overjustification Effect in Parenting

Without relying only on rewards from outside sources, parents can use the overjustification effect’s principles to encourage their kids’ love of learning and discovery.

Overcoming the Overjustification Effect

In order to rekindle their intrinsic passion for an activity, people who have encountered the overjustification effect can adopt several actions. Regaining the happiness and delight it provides can assist in removing the emphasis from material gains.


In conclusion, the overjustification effect emphasizes the fine line that must be drawn between motivation derived from within and motivation derived from outside. Rewards can be a powerful motivator, but they should only be used sparingly in order to preserve the intrinsic motivation that underlies activities’ true enjoyment. Knowing about this phenomenon gives us the ability to encourage intrinsic drive in others and in ourselves.


What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is the internal desire or drive to engage in an activity for the sheer pleasure or satisfaction it brings, rather than for external rewards.

Can the overjustification effect be reversed?

Yes, individuals can overcome the overjustification effect by rekindling their intrinsic motivation for an activity over time.

Are all extrinsic rewards harmful to intrinsic motivation?

No, not all extrinsic rewards are harmful. It depends on factors like the type of reward and the individual’s level of intrinsic motivation.

How can educators prevent the overjustification effect in the classroom?

Educators can strike a balance between offering rewards and nurturing students’ genuine interest in learning, focusing on intrinsic motivation.

What are some practical examples of the overjustification effect in daily life?

Examples include children losing interest in a hobby when rewarded for it or employees becoming less motivated when their work is overly incentivized.

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