Intrinsic Motivation and Positive Development

Reed Larson, Natalie Rusk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decades of scientific research shows that intrinsic motivation (IM) is a powerful "engine" of learning and positive development. This chapter synthesizes the research, first showing how the psychological state of IM is associated not only with enhanced engagement and perseverance in an activity, but also with greater use of meta-cognitive strategies and deeper processing of information. These features likely account for evidence that IM is related to greater and more effective learning. Second, we examine the determinants of this beneficial state. Evidence suggests that it results from the convergence of factors at multiple levels-from immediate conditions in the activity to longer-term personal goals, cultural values, and human dispositions. Drawing on these findings, we show that there is considerable potential for young people to develop their abilities to experience and regulate their IM within activities. In the third and final section, we then discuss how youth professionals can work with youth to help them cultivate the capacity for intrinsically motivated learning. We present ten guiding principles for cultivating IM derived from the research. We give particular attention to adolescence, because it is a period when youth become more able to engage in this deliberate cultivation - to be producers of their own development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-130
Number of pages42
JournalAdvances in child development and behavior
StatePublished - Sep 19 2011


  • Adolescent development
  • Interest
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Positive youth development
  • Youth professionals
  • Youth programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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