The intrinsic foundations of extrinsic motivations and goals: towards a unified humanistic theory of wellbeing

Mick Cooper

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8 Citations (Scopus)
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A key contribution of both classical and contemporary humanistic theories is their distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and drives, and their demonstration that psychological wellbeing is more strongly associated with the former than the latter. However, such a dimensionalization raises the question of how extrinsic motivations and goals emerge; and classic humanistic attempts to account for this tend to contradict some of the basic tenets of humanistic thinking: that human beings are integrated, meaning-seeking agencies consistently striving to maintain and enhance their being. An alternative framework is therefore proposed, a hierarchy of wants, in which extrinsic motivations and goals are seen as attempts -- albeit often unsuccessful ones -- to reach the highest order, most intrinsic goals. Here, “extrinsic” motivations and goals are not considered pathogenic, per se, but problematic because of their indirectness and lack of fit to present contexts. This model also suggests that human beings are most likely to achieve a state of wellbeing when their goals are synergetically related: determined both by the internal configuration of goals and external resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-171
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Humanistic Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • humanistic psychology
  • goals
  • motivation
  • actualizing tendency
  • synergy

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