Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 185–205

Ego-involved persistence: When free-choice behavior is not intrinsically motivated

  • Richard M. Ryan
  • Richard Koestner
  • Edward L. Deci

DOI: 10.1007/BF00995170

Cite this article as:
Ryan, R.M., Koestner, R. & Deci, E.L. Motiv Emot (1991) 15: 185. doi:10.1007/BF00995170


Experiments on factors affecting intrinsic motivation have generally inferred intrinsic motivation from subjects' engagement in a target activity during a “free-choice period” when external contingencies are no longer operative. However, internally controlling regulation is a form of internal motivation that is very different from intrinsic motivation and can underlie free-choice-period activity. This paper presents three experiments concerned with differentiating internally controlling from intrinsically motivated persistence in situations where ego-involved vs. task-involved subjects had received positive vs. nonconfirming (or no) performance feedback. The first experiment showed that ego-involved (relative to task-involved) subjects displayed less free-choice persistence when they received positive feedback, whereas the second experiment showed that ego-involved (relative to task-involved) subjects displayed more free-choice persistence when they received nonconfirming feedback. In both experiments, however, it was shown that ego-involved subjects did not report the expected affective correlates of intrinsic motivation—namely, interest/enjoyment and perceived choice—whereas task-involved subjects did. In the third experiment, as predicted, ego-involved subjects tended to show less free-choice persistence than task-involved subjects when they received positive performance feedback but greater free-choice persistence when they received no performance feedback. The problem of distinguishing intrinsically motivated activity from internally controlled behavior is discussed.

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard M. Ryan
    • 1
  • Richard Koestner
    • 2
  • Edward L. Deci
    • 3
  1. 1.Human Motivation Program, Department of PsychologyUniversity of RochesterRochester
  2. 2.McGill UniversityCanada
  3. 3.University of RochesterUSA

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