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Intrinsic motivation (II): Need for competence and self-determination Peter Kaminski Theater Magdeburg

Intrinsic motivation (II): Need for competence and self-determination

  • Freitag, 01 Oktober 2010 00:00
  • geschrieben von  Junghans, Wolfgang

What motivates an individual in addition to its will to survive? In the classic theory it is the extrinsic motivation. Here the individual reacts to external incentives and act according to this factors. But as it was shown in the last part of this series a third form of motivation exist the intrinsic motivation which develops when an individual performs certain activities. The reason for this motivation is the satisfaction of certain needs of the individual. This statement leads the question “Which needs are satisfied”? In this and the following articles some famous ideas about these needs are presented.

This article starts with the need for competence and self-determination[1].

According to this theory, individuals have the need to behave effectively in their environment. Further, they want to reach a high level of competence. This means, that individuals are anxious to do the right things in a certain situation and try to improve their skills and abilities. The will to improve the own competence and the intrinsic motivation are mutual depend. In other words, the wish to become better is the reason for performing a certain activity resulting in a higher skill level meaning the competence of the individual has risen. This improvement then gives an individual a good feeling which is then the starting point of a new intrinsic motivation leading to the will to improve the own skills even further. Hence, the need of higher competence is the reason of the intrinsic motivation which then becomes the reason for the need of much higher competence. The described needs can be shown on the example of an entrepreneur. He first of all tries to act effectively. This means for instance that he will do usually only activities which are in favour of his business. Hence, he will probably never yell at costumer. Further, he will try to increase his skill for instance in the understanding of his costumer to find new ways to make them satisfied.[2]

The satisfaction of the second mentioned need the will to increase his own competence is an essential part of every activity since it is usually necessary to keep up the interest of an individual in the long term. Here again, the mutual dependency of the intrinsic motivation and the need of a higher competence plays a significant role since the gain of higher skills leads to an on-going motivation of the individual to perform the activity while increasing his competence. This form of motivation is also called empowerment motivation which describes the will of an individual to be able to control its own environment. This opportunity can be reached by increasing the own competence. In other words, the improvement of the skills and abilities of an individual leads to a higher control of his environment. This process can be shown for instance with the help of a photographer. If he wants to take excellent pictures he must among others be able to use his camera, acknowledge the light conditions and find the right perspective for the image. If he is a beginner he will probably have problems to control all these factors. Hence, he needs luck to take professional looking photos. Going on with photography will increase his skills and ability due to learning. Consequently, he will reach a point where he knows how to use his camera, what to do if the light conditions are not comfortable and to find the right perspective for an image. Hence, he is able to influence the quality of his pictures since he can react to the environmental conditions. Now he is able to control his environment in a certain way. The will to reach this state is his motivation or in other words this is the reason for him to go on with photography.[3]

This example shows also another aspect of intrinsic motivation that it is influenced by the need of self-determination which is increased with improving skills and abilities. Hence, the individual tries to get control over its own environment with the help of the understanding of the cause and effect relationship between his own behaviour and its effects. Further, this understanding leads to a higher motivation to do the activity. This is also true for the extent of control the individual feels performing his action. Hence, a higher extent of control leads to a higher motivation. In addition, the motivation rises if the activity leads to a result which is worthwhile for the individual. For the photographer this means that he will be more motivated if he understands how his behaviour leads to the shown result.[4]

An activity needs in addition to the facts mentioned before that it involves an appropriate degree of difficulty. This means, that the activity is neither too easy nor too hard. Consequently, the level of difficulty must be between this extreme cases meaning the individual must feel that it can fulfil the task but it must also be a certain challenge for it. Further, it can be noticed that the intrinsic motivation is fostered by getting a positive feedback.[5]

The described needs competence, effective behaviour and self-determination lead to the result that an individual is anxious to situation which represents a feasible challenge for it. This means, that an individual will search for a harder activity if the recent action is too easy. In the opposite case, it will look for a way to increase the degree of difficulty of the challenge.[6]

The explained needs motivate an activity intrinsic which leads to an optimal level of difficulty or to situations where the individual is able to perform the activity with its own skills and abilities (competence). Further, they show that an individual is anxious to behave effectively in its environment, want to improve its competence and want to be self-determinated. If this is given by a task then the individual will be motivated intrinsically.[7]

[1] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 77.

[2] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 77.

[3] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 77-78.

[4] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 78-79.

[5] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 78.

[6] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 79.

[7] Vgl. Michelis (2009), S. 80.



Michelis, D. (2009), Interaktive Großbildschirme im öffentlichen Raum - Nutzungsmotive und Gestaltungsregeln, 1. Ausg., Gabler Verlag: Wiesbaden.

k&k Consulting, Existenzgründerberatung, Existenzsicherung, Unternehmensberatung, Magdeburg

tags: human resource management, motivation, intrinsic motivation, self-direction & competence