Overjustification Effect: How to Fix a Lack of Motivation

Motivation is an essential ingredient for success. It pushes people to achieve their goals and step out their comfort zones. However, motivation can be a tricky thing, and the source it comes from is crucial. The Overjustification Effect reveals the ways in which our motivations are distorted and external influences weigh too heavily on our choices. It is important to consider intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to ensure our endurance and perseverance in carrying out our tasks or in pursuit of our goals.

What is the Overjustification Effect Psychological?

The overjustification effect is evident in situations where providing an external reward to an individual reduces their internal motivation to complete the task.

Overjustification is a psychological phenomenon that manifests in the event that an individual’s desire to engage in a certain task decreases because of receiving external rewards that include money or praise for the same activity. In other words, people are less likely to participate in an exercise for pleasure or satisfaction if they are given a reward.

The overjustification effect is a human psychology triggered by external rewards that can decrease a person’s inner motivation toreach an objective.

Two types of motivation are present when we do a particular task: intrinsic and extrinsic. It could be either or both, depending on what drives the individual to complete a task.

The theory of self-perception argues that people evaluate their actions according to external restrictions and freedoms. That is when a the person believes they are required to perform a task to get a reward instead of to have fun, they are more likely not to be interested in the pursuit.

This psychological phenomenon is closely related to the insufficient justification effect, in which an individual will be more inclined to participate in an act, they do not like to get a small reward than more substantial rewards.

Why Motivation is Important

Motivation, or lack of it, is among the most significant reason for achievement and effectiveness.  It is a huge factor in learning, which is something we do throughout all stages of our lives.

As children, our curiosity is often enough to interest us in learning. However, once we go to school, getting good grades becomes the motivator for learning and reduces how much we enjoy the process. In the same way, we might accept a job simply because we like it, but when a paycheck is the primary motivator to complete our work, we don’t enjoy the job.

As essential elements of life, such as work and education, are susceptible to the overjustification effect, it is crucial to be aware of it. While it’s not easy to rid yourself of any external reward, such as the best grades or a good salary, the overjustification effect proves that it is essential to consider the true importance of the activities to keep the motivation.

Suppose we understand how the overjustification effect occurs; both educators and business owners can efficiently decide when and how to encourage people with external rewards. 

Types and Behavior of Motivation

To achieve the proper balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, it’s crucial to determine what behavior patterns are the most frequently associated with these types of motivations:

Intrinsic motivation 

This is usually the case when we engage in an activity to gain personal satisfaction. We focus on aspects like developing skills and sustainable and long-term growth. We find our wins in things that aren’t as outwardly facing but realize that progress is a process to be enjoyed. 

Extrinsic motivation

When we derive motivation from social sources and material rewards, we focus on performance-based outcomes and seek instant gratification and quantitative affirmation. It’s more likely that we display aspects of both of these types of behaviors. 

Factors that Influence the Overjustification Effect

Type of Reward

Tangible rewards, like gifts or cash, are more likely to create the overjustification effect as opposed to intangible rewards like recognition or praise.


The overjustification effect tends to occur when rewards are dependent on specific actions or outcomes instead of being provided unconditionally.

Perceived Control

The overjustification effect is less likely to occur when people view the rewards in the form of their effort and accomplishments instead of as an opportunity to control their behavior.

Causes of the Overjustification Effect

What causes the overjustification effect to happen? In one view, people pay more focus on external rewards rather than their satisfaction with the activity. This is why some people believe that their involvement in sports results from external rewards and not their appreciation for the act.

The overjustification effect (the reduction in motivation in the context of external rewards) may seem odd initially. However, it begins to make more sense once you consider it against the background of normal human behavior. Three possible explanations for this phenomenon:

Feeling a lack of autonomy

According to the theory of cognitive evaluation, individuals are less enthused when they believe they lack autonomy. If someone dangles an external reward before you, you might be unable to do something because you love it. Instead, you just take action to earn the reward.

Feeling bribed

One of the adverse effects of extrinsic rewards is that they can influence a person’s decision-making process. External rewards can sometimes appear as a bribe. The self-determination theory states that people generally prefer to perform actions for their interests rather than feeling coerced into doing these things, regardless of whether they gain from the process.

Resting on your accolade

If you are in a situation where you are receiving excessive external incentives (in the kind of a high salary, praise, etc.) You may be tempted to believe your behavior and efforts are irrelevant to your success. In the end, you lose the motivation to continue working hard since you think you’ll always get external rewards, even if you reduce your work hours.

According to the theory of self-determination, there are three elements required to feel intrinsically motivated


Freedom from external restrictions


The need to feel capable


The need to feel connected with other people.

The three above components are essential for people to feel driven and perform their best. The overjustification effect could be at play if these three elements are not felt.

Overjustification Effect Examples

The overjustification effect is evident in various situations. Think about these three scenarios where intrinsic motivation declines when extrinsic motivation rises:

Reading to learn

Parents may feel enticed to offer their children external rewards, such as sweets, to encourage reading. Particularly in the early stages of development, this strategy could result in children’s disinterest in reading instead of fostering their curiosity about the subject.

Playing a sport for pay

Professional athletes begin their careers with a passion for sports. If teams offer them external rewards (like financial rewards), certain players notice a decline in motivation or performance due to their intrinsic motivation beginning to diminish.

Turning volunteer work into a career

Imagine that you work at a local organization to help low-income students deal with the negative consequences of economic hardship.

Imagine that the organization you volunteer with gives you a cash reward for what you’re doing in exchange for a free service. This incentive could erase any notion of altruism, placing a monetary value on your generosity.

Overjustification Individual and Systemic effects

Individual effects

The overjustification effect is an undesirable cognitive phenomenon. It could cause us to give up activities that are actually beneficial once we are presented with a prize or monetary reward for the work.

Instead of being a source of value for the activity in the first place, they can devalue the activity. Take the phrase, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” 

The overjustification effect embodies this idea in that it suggests that intrinsic motivation and pleasure are reduced due to money.

The overjustification effect could be why we often complain about our work, even if we are interested in what we do, because we get paid to complete tasks on the job, it is easy to cite our pay as the primary motivation behind our work. We are compelled to finish the work because we wouldn’t be paid, and we overlook that we could enjoy doing the task in other ways. Rewards from money and other external sources tend to outweigh any other motivational factor.

However, it does not guarantee that working for nothing is viable or feasible; the bills must be paid. Does the overjustification effects suggest that we shouldn’t perform what we love doing as a job? This seems to be counterintuitive.

The overjustification effect could indicate that it’s important to preserve some of our interests as mere hobbies, not to attempt to profit financially from them, so as to preserve the intrinsic value that comes from participating in the activity.

Systemic effects

Motivation is vital in the modern world in which we are flooded with numerous options to spend our days. Being motivated to complete tasks can improve efficiency, so it is essential for organizations and leaders to be aware of how to motivate employees best. If they are not intrinsically motivated, individuals may lose sight of the reason they choose to participate in an event.

This can result in people abandoning their job or giving up their education, or putting aside their interests. A lack of motivation is also an underlying cause of depression which, in turn, ends in a stumbling block to overcome depression. Because motivation is an essential aspect of our lives, businesses and organizations are constantly seeking ways to inspire individuals. However, most of the time, they come as extrinsic rewards.

Some studies suggest that rewards could inspire people or provide reinforcement for work well completed. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the signs of the overjustification effect, to ensure that reward systems are utilized effectively and in a controlled manner at any point.

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How to Overcome the Overjustification Effect

Extrinsic motivation too much can cause your inner motivation to drop. Keep these suggestions in mind in order to counteract the over-justification effect:

Engage in activities solely for fun

Find activities that you would be willing to do for free. It’s simpler to reject external reinforcement if you have a solid base of enjoyment. Find something you enjoy and get it done for free whenever possible.

Separate hobbies and work distinct

In the context of working for a living, your pay is a type of external reward. It is possible to find pleasure in your work and earn a lot of benefits intrinsically; monetizing the things you enjoy could make it feel like work and less like fun.

Remove external incentives

It is easier to re-energize your inner motivation by getting rid of all external motivations or, at the very least, obvious external rewards. If you can, step away from receiving extrinsic rewards to increase your appreciation for your feelings of happiness at an accomplishment you’ve made.

How to prevent the Overjustification Effect

Becoming aware of the overjustification effect can allow us to decide to maintain a small portion of our interests and hobbies on things we engage in to have fun rather than seek an external reward to finish them.

Being conscious of the overjustification effect is not a way to avoid being influenced by extrinsic motivations once they are offered to us. Furthermore, the power of money cannot be ignored since we must make a decent living to afford things such as rent and food. Managers and businesses must consider the overjustification effect when deciding the best method to encourage their employees or the public. It is often thought that rewards can be an effective method to inspire individuals, but it is evident this is only true for certain types of jobs.

The overjustification effect only occurs when tasks have intrinsic value for people but not for work they would not enjoy. Furthermore, the overjustification effect is believed to have less impact when a reward is given for performing the task properly rather than simply doing the task. Because the overjustification effect can be detrimental to learning, parents may reward children for excelling at school instead of merely attending school. 


The overjustification effect describes the condition whereby we lose our intrinsic motivational drive to complete the task, we used to enjoy when an incentive, such as cash or a prize, is offered to us in exchange for our participation in the task.

The external motivator, the reward, substitutes for our internal motivation to finish the task; we are led to believe that this task wasn’t voluntary since we feel compelled by the promise of a reward.

When they understand the specific ways the overjustification effect manifests, educators and employers can ensure they’re careful and considerate when they hand rewards to employees. Since the overjustification effect is only visible for tasks people enjoy, reward systems can be used for boring and mundane tasks. In addition, if rewards were offered to those who perform excellently in a task, then the overjustification effect is not as likely to be noticed as a result, which is why employers and teachers can ensure that rewards are used only to encourage people to perform excellently.

Overjustification Effect : How Extrinsic Rewards Kill Internal Motivation
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