Intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards

Intrinsic rewards exist within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure1. Extrinsic rewards exist outside the individual and are related to work that can be measured in monetary terms.

Examples of intrinsic rewards are “conducting meaningful work”, when a tasks provides a “feeling of well-being”, experiencing “pleasure from helping someone in need”, and the “personal satisfaction of a job well done”.

Examples of extrinsic rewards are money praise, grades, prizes, highscores, points, and ranks.

Competitive vs cooperative

Users can be rewarded for working together as a group or excelling as individuals.

In a competitive community, users share the same goals, but must compete against each other to achieve them, whereas in a cooperative community, users work together to achieve those goals.

Users in the competitive community are motivated by extrinsic rewards such as accomplishments, points, levels, rank, or anything that can be used to establish their bragging rights2. In the cooperative community it is the more intrinsic rewards that should be focused on: meaningfulness or personal satisfaction of a job well done.

Studies show that rewarding competitive actions accentuates users’ perceived difference between themselves and other users in the community. Rewarding cooperative actions minimizes perceived differences between the user and other users of a community3.

Instant gratification vs endurance

Instantly reward wanted behavior if you want to start momentum in a specific directions and reward long-term commitment if you want to build routine use.

Examples of longer term behavior are: “Log in for 14 days to…”, “Stay in the top 10 for a month to…”, “Complete at least 20 tasks to…”.

Expected vs unexpected

When users expect a reward there is less subsequent intrinsic interest in continuing the target activity. In other words: when users have accomplished the tasks required for an expected reward, they tend to have less interest in accomplishing a similar task for the sole purpose of accomplishing the tasks, than if a reward received was unexpected – or not there at all4.

What are other interesting factors?

What other interesting factors do you consider when designing online social or individual reward systems? Please do share!


1 Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at

2 The competitive spectrum

3 Competitive Versus Cooperative Reward Structures

4 “Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward: A test of the ‘Overjustification’ hypothesis”. Lepper, Green, and Nisbett, 1973.

Anders Toxboe Author

Based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Toxboe is a Product Discovery coach and trainer, helping both small and big clients get their product right. He also founded and a series of other projects. Follow Anders at @uipatternscom.