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Running Head: IMMEDIACY INCREASES INTRINSIC MOTIVATION
It's About Time: Earlier Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation
Kaitlin Woolley, Cornell University
Ayelet Fishbach, University of Chicago
In press, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
403 Sage Hall
Ithaca, NY 14850
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 2
Can immediate (vs. delayed) rewards increase intrinsic motivation? Prior research compared the
presence versus absence of rewards. By contrast, this research compared immediate versus
delayed rewards, predicting that more immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation by
creating a perceptual fusion between the activity and its goal (i.e., the reward). In support of the
hypothesis, framing a reward from watching a news program as immediate (vs. delayed)
increased intrinsic motivation to watch the program (Study 1), and receiving an immediate bonus
(vs. delayed, Study 2; and vs. delayed and no bonus, Study 3) increased intrinsic motivation in an
experimental task. The effect of reward timing was mediated by the strength of the association
between an activity and a reward, and was specific to intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation—
immediacy influenced the positive experience of an activity, but not perceived outcome
importance (Study 4). In addition, the effect of the timing of rewards was independent of the
effect of the magnitude of the rewards (Study 5).
Keywords: intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, immediate/delayed rewards, motivation, self-control
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 3
What motivates you to read this article? To what extent are you intrinsically motivated;
that is, you enjoy the experience of learning about psychological research, feeling interested and
engaged in reading? By definition, an activity is intrinsically motivated when it is experienced as
an end in itself; when an individual is motivated to pursue the activity for its own sake because
the benefits for pursuing the activity cannot be separated from it (Heath, 1999; Kruglanski et al.,
in press; Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973; Rheinberg, 2008; Sansone & Harackiewicz, 1996).
Research often contrasts intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation, which is the motivation
to complete an activity to achieve external benefits that are separate outcomes from pursuing the
activity (Higgins & Trope, 1990; Kruglanski et al., 1975; Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989;
Ryan & Deci, 2000; Wrzesniewski et al., 2014). Reading this article is extrinsically motivated if
you do so to acquire some important knowledge you can apply later. Indeed, a combination of
intrinsic motives (the positive feeling in the process) and extrinsic motives (the positive value of
the outcome) underlie most activities people pursue, such as reading this article (Fishbach &
Choi, 2012; Schwartz & Wrzesniewski, 2016).
Our definition of intrinsic motivation—experiencing an activity as its own end—implies
a perceptual fusion between the activity and its outcome; the activity and its end are strongly
associated and are seen as inseparable (Fishbach, Shah, & Kruglanski, 2004; Kruglanski et al., in
press). Thus, while an intrinsically motivated activity is goal directed, the attainment of the goal
and the pursuit of the activity are no longer separable and the person experiences pursuing the
activity as achieving the goal.
This analysis implies that intrinsicality varies on a continuum. Because the degree of
fusion, that is, the strength of association between an activity and its outcome, varies, so too does
intrinsic motivation. Activities that are strongly associated with their goal are more intrinsically
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 4
motivated than activities that are weakly associated with their goal. For example, as much as
reading this article (the activity) is hopefully associated with satisfying curiosity (the goal), it is
possible that another activity (e.g., social media) is even more closely associated with satisfying
curiosity and hence, more intrinsically motivated. Moreover, the positive properties of goal
attainment transfer to the activity as a function of their association (Fishbach et al., 2004). The
closer the association, the more the properties of goal attainment, be that satisfying curiosity,
inducing relief, or evoking pride, come to characterize the activity as well.
The Number of Links Determines the Activity-Goal Association
What, then, determines the strength of the activity-goal association, and thus influences
intrinsic motivation? Previous research identified that this association is a function of the number
of goals an activity achieves. Classic research on the overjustification effect demonstrated that
adding a goal to an activity undermines intrinsic motivation (Lepper, 1981; Lepper & Greene,
1978; Tang & Hall, 1995). Children were less intrinsically motivated to color after they learned
they would get a prize for coloring (Lepper et al., 1973). Adding a new goal (i.e., the prize)
diluted the association between coloring and other goals (e.g., self-expression), undermining
intrinsic motivation to color. Similarly, children were less intrinsically motivated to eat certain
foods (e.g., crackers) after learning the foods served other goals beyond good taste (e.g., that in
addition to tasting good, these crackers would also make them healthier or smarter; Maimaran &
Fishbach, 2014). Although adding rewards does not always decrease, and at times, increases
intrinsic motivation (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996; Goswami & Urminsky, 2017), it is likely
that whenever the introduction of external rewards decreases intrinsic motivation, it occurs by
diluting the association between the activity and the original goal.
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 5
Research on the Dilution Effect directly tested how increasing the number of goals an
activity achieves decreases the association between the activity and any one of these goals,
reducing the perceptual fusion between the activity and goal attainment (Orehek, Mauro,
Kruglanski, & van der Bles, 2012; Zhang, Fishbach, & Kruglanski, 2007). In one study, the
association between jogging and increasing the oxygen level in blood was weaker when
participants learned about a second goal: that jogging is also a means for strengthening various
muscles (Zhang et al., 2007). By weakening the association strength between the activity and its
goal, a “multifinal” means (i.e., activity that serves multiple goals) appeared less associated and
hence, motivated by any of these goals. In another study, a task that served two goals (e.g.,
learning and making money) was less intrinsically motivated than the same task that served only
one goal (learning; Lafrenière, Bélanger, Kruglanski, & Vallerand, 2011).
Relatedly, research on activity engagement theory documented that the addition of any
goal, be it typically intrinsic or extrinsic, undermines intrinsic motivation by diluting the
association between the activity and the original goal (Higgins, Lee, Kwon, & Trope, 1995;
Higgins & Trope, 1990; Higgins, Trope, & Kwon, 1999). For example, elementary school
children felt less intrinsically motivated to read when reading was first associated with coloring
via a coloring storybook, and then the coloring activity was removed from reading (Higgins et
al., 1995). Adding and then removing an intrinsic goal (self-expression through coloring) had a
similar effect as adding and then removing an external reward, such that both undermined
Not only does adding a goal to an activity decrease intrinsic motivation for that activity,
but adding an activity that serves the same goal similarly reduces intrinsic motivation for the
original activity (i.e., “equifinal” means; Bélanger, Schori-Eyal, Pica, Kruglanski, & Lafrenière,
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 6
2015). In one study, people learned about either one or two activities that achieve the goal of
connecting with others. When presented with two ways to connect with others, “hanging out with
other people” and “helping others,” people were less intrinsically motivated to engage in either
activity than when presented with only one of the activities that served the connection goal
(Bélanger et al., 2015).
Overall, existing research finds evidence that the number of links between an activity and
a goal determines their association—the means-ends fusion—with additional links negatively
affecting intrinsic motivation. But this literature is silent on other determinants of the strength of
the activity-goal association. Might proximity between an activity and its goal also matter? We
argue that this is indeed the case.
Temporal Activity-Goal Association
We hypothesize that delivering a goal more immediately increases intrinsic motivation.
In this way, immediacy, similar to the number of links between activities and goals, affects the
strength of the activity-goal association such that the activity is more strongly fused with its goal,
and as a result, the activity is more intrinsically motivated.
This hypothesis is consistent with conditioning research, which finds that proximity
between an activity and a goal strengthens their association (De Houwer, Thomas, & Baeyens,
2001; Razran, 1954). Immediately presenting a liked or disliked stimuli (US), such as food or a
shock, after a neutral stimuli (CS), such as a sound, can lead to approach or avoidant behavior
when the sound is presented alone (Dickinson, 1980). Importantly, for both animals and humans,
a shorter delay between the conditioned and unconditioned stimulus is associated with a stronger
conditioned response (Balsam, Drew & Gallistel, 2010; Boakes & Costa, 2014; McAllister,
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 7
1953; Wolfle, 1932). If proximity is a driver of associative learning, it could increase intrinsic
We explore our hypothesis by manipulating the delivery time of rewards (i.e., the goal of
pursuing the activity). We use rewards that are internal to an activity and are therefore typically
considered intrinsic (e.g., becoming more informed from watching the news), as well as rewards
that are external to the activity and are therefore typically considered extrinsic (e.g., receiving
bonus payment for a task). We expect reward timing to influence intrinsic motivation when the
reward is internal as well as external.
We compare immediate rewards to delayed rewards as well as to no rewards. The latter
comparison to no rewards allows us to contrast our prediction with a prediction based on the
overjustification effect. Whereas previous research found that rewards can crowd out intrinsic
motivation for activities not typically associated with these rewards (Lepper et al., 1973), this
effect is not universal (e.g., Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996). For example, whereas monetary
payments for a game not associated with financial incentives (i.e., wooden block game)
decreased intrinsic motivation, the same payments increased intrinsic motivation when money
was a feature of the activity (i.e., coin-toss game; Kruglanski et al., 1975). In studying activities
that are typically rewarded (e.g., participating in a paid experiment), we predict that an
immediate reward will increase intrinsic motivation relative to both a delayed and no-reward.
We further predict the effect of reward timing is unique to intrinsic motivation—the
pursuit of the activity as its own end. Extrinsic motivation—pursuing an activity to receive
external outcomes—is unlikely affected by a strong activity-goal association. The activity
continues to serve the goal and leads to the expected positive outcome regardless of the goal’s
temporal arrival, and as such, immediacy should have a weaker effect on the evaluation of the
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 8
activity’s outcome as important. Accordingly, we test for discriminant validity: whether
immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation (positive experience) more than extrinsic
motivation (perceived outcome importance). For example, a reading task that provides an
immediate bonus should feel more enjoyable and fun (intrinsically motivated), but should not be
evaluated as more important or useful for achieving the bonus (extrinsically motivated), than a
task that provides the same bonus with a delay.
An alternative hypothesis is that an earlier reward actually increases extrinsic motivation
because earlier rewards can be psychologically larger due to temporal discounting (Ainslie &
Haslam, 1992; Frederick, Loewenstein, & O’Donoghue, 2002). For example, most people value
$100 now more than $100 in one year and thus, the earlier reward could be larger and therefore,
more extrinsically motivating, rendering the outcome of the activity as more important.
However, we expect that the effect of timing on intrinsic motivation is larger than the effect of
timing on extrinsic motivation; for example, immediate rewards will render an activity more
pleasant to pursue but not necessarily more important for achieving the outcome.
A related alternative prediction, based on temporal discounting, is that earlier rewards
only increase intrinsic motivation because earlier rewards are larger rewards, and not because
they create an activity-goal fusion. Such an alternative requires that earlier rewards increase both
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (whereas we predict a stronger effect on intrinsic motivation).
In addition, we test this alternative by independently varying the magnitude and timing of a
reward. If proximity has a similar effect as an increase in magnitude, it is possible that proximal
rewards are simply psychologically larger rewards. In contrast, if, as we predict, an earlier
reward has a stronger effect on increasing intrinsic motivation than a larger reward, it is more
likely that timing has an effect that is independent of the effect of magnitude.
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 9
Across five studies, we tested our hypothesis that immediate (vs. delayed) rewards
increase intrinsic motivation by strengthening the activity-goal association. We operationalized
intrinsic motivation by drawing on past research, using self-report measures of interest and
enjoyment, as well as a behavioral indicator—the likelihood of choosing to engage in the focal
task during a free-choice period and absent additional rewards (Deci, 1971; Kruglanski et al.,
1975; Lepper et al., 1973). We tested our hypothesis across a variety of tasks (e.g., watching the
news, working, and reading).
Specifically, Study 1 tested whether framing rewards as arriving immediately versus with
a delay increases intrinsic motivation. Study 2 manipulated reward timing, testing whether an
actual immediate reward increases intrinsic motivation compared with a delayed reward. Next,
Study 3 added a no-reward condition, testing whether immediate rewards increase intrinsic
motivation compared with delayed and no rewards. The remaining studies examined the process
underlying our hypothesis. Study 4 tested whether immediate rewards increase intrinsic but not
extrinsic motivation (discriminant validity), by strengthening the activity-goal association
(mediation). Specifically, Study 4 assessed intrinsic motivation as well as extrinsic motivation,
operationalized as the importance of receiving external outcomes (Brehm & Self, 1989; Heath,
1999; Locke & Latham, 1990; Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014; Woolley & Fishbach, 2015).
Finally, Study 5 examined whether immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation more than
larger rewards do, which implies that the effect of immediacy does not result from temporal
discounting and differences in magnitude of immediate versus delayed rewards.
We sought to maximize power across all studies by using a minimum sample of 50
participants per condition, and using previous effect sizes to estimate sample size where possible
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 10
(i.e., Studies 1 and 4). Power analyses conducted in G*Power (Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner,
2007) for each study showed that based on the respective sample sizes and an alpha probability
of .05, power was sufficient across all studies (i.e., ≥ .80) to detect a small to medium effect
(e.g., d = .35, ηp2 = .035).1 We further used measures adopted from previous research on intrinsic
motivation (Deci, 1971; Kruglanski et al., 1975; Lepper et al., 1973). Overall, the studies in this
paper incorporate data from an online sample of American participants and university students.
All studies reported received IRB review and approval.
Study 1: Framing Rewards as Immediate versus Delayed Increases Intrinsic Motivation
Study 1 examined whether framing the rewards of an activity as immediate (vs. delayed)
increases intrinsic motivation. Participants watched a clip from a satirical news program and
elaborated on how two benefits from watching the show (i.e., becoming more informed and
gaining conversation topics) arrive either immediately or with a delay before reporting their
intrinsic motivation to watch the news program.
Participants. A priori, we conducted a power analysis using G*Power software, with an
estimated effect size of d = .35 based on Supplemental Study 1. Results revealed a total sample
of 232 was needed to have power of .80 to detect an effect size (d) of .35, using an alpha of .05.
We opened the study for 240 HITs on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). A total of 242
workers participated for monetary compensation. A priori we planned to exclude participants
who had previously seen this specific clip (n = 22), leaving a total sample of 220 (Mage = 35.59,
SD = 11.55; 109 female; following Zhou & Fishbach, 2016, we tested for attrition: no
participants dropped the survey after random assignment).
1 We report all data exclusions (if any), all manipulations, and all measures for all studies. The raw data for all
studies are available in an online data repository (http://bit.ly/2qv69GU).
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 11
Procedure. This study employed a 2 (reward timing: immediate vs. delayed) between-
participants design. Participants watched a 75-second clip from a satirical news program, Last
Week Tonight with John Oliver, from an episode on Tibetan Buddhists and the Dalai Lama. To
participate in the study, participants needed to complete a sound check that required them to
listen to and type in a string of four numbers. Participants then spent 75 seconds watching and
listening to the video clip. During this time, they were not able to advance the survey.
We next manipulated whether participants framed the rewards from watching the news
program as immediate versus delayed. To hold the reward content constant, all participants read
“Watching news clips like this can provide a number of benefits. For example, other participants
told us that watching this clip helps them become more informed about certain issues and gain
conversation topics.” We asked participants in the immediate-reward condition to “Think about
and elaborate on how becoming more informed and gaining conversation topics is an immediate
benefit you receive in the moment while watching this clip.” We asked participants in the
delayed-reward condition to “Think about and elaborate on how becoming more informed and
gaining conversation topics is a delayed benefit you receive in the days or weeks after watching
this clip.” For example, participants in the immediate-reward condition wrote “It basically
educates you on the spot” and “You are learning and forming opinions about this issue with the
Dalai Lama and Tibet while you are watching the clip.” Participants in the delayed-reward
condition wrote “It may give you the insight you need in future situations, or might even give
you something relatable to talk about in future situations” and “You can talk about it when the
topic comes up.”
To measure self-reported intrinsic motivation, we adapted measures from the interest-
enjoyment dimension of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (McAuley, Duncan, & Tammen,
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 12
1989; Ryan, 1982; Vallerand, 1997; see also Harackiewicz, 1979): (1) “How much did you enjoy
watching this news clip?” (2) “How interesting was it to watch this news clip?” (0 = not at all, 6
= very much), and (3) “To what extent did watching this news clip feel more like work or more
like fun?” (0 = more like work, 6 = more like fun).
At the end of the survey, participants answered “How often do you watch Last Week
Tonight with John Oliver?” (M = 2.15, SD = 1.48) and “Have you seen this clip or episode
before?” Responses to these measures did not differ by condition (familiarity with this program:
t(218) = .21, p = .833, 95% CI of the difference (95% CIdiff) = [-.44, .35], d = .03; viewed this
clip previously, χ2(1, N = 242) = .106, p = .745, ϕ = .02) and we did not analyze them further.
Results and Discussion
We collapsed the three items measuring intrinsic motivation (α = .90). In support of our
hypothesis, participants reported greater intrinsic motivation to watch the news program after
framing the rewards from it as immediate (M = 4.72, SD = 1.16) versus delayed (M = 4.24, SD =
1.54), t(218) = 2.61, p = .010, 95% CIdiff = [.12, .84], d = .35. For a conceptual replication of this
study using a different task, see Study 1 in the Supplemental Materials.
This study provides initial evidence that immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation
compared with delayed rewards. When participants framed the same rewards from watching the
same news program as arriving sooner, they were more intrinsically motivated to watch the
program than when they framed these rewards as arriving with a delay.
Study 2: Receiving Immediate versus Delayed Rewards Increases Intrinsic Motivation
In Study 2, we assessed participants’ intrinsic motivation in a task that delivered either
immediate (simultaneous, in this case) or delayed rewards. Participants completed an
experimental task in exchange for chocolate rewards. In the immediate-reward condition,
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 13
participants received the chocolate and the task simultaneously (but were not allowed to eat until
after the task). In the delayed-reward condition, they saw the chocolate and learned they would
receive it after completing the task. We predicted that receiving an immediate (vs. delayed)
chocolate reward would increase intrinsic motivation for the experimental task.
Participants. An experimenter approached 101 (Mage = 22.72, SD = 4.00; 31 female)
undergraduate students seated in a common area on-campus to complete a paper survey.
Procedure. The study used a 2 (reward timing: immediate vs. delayed) between-
participants design. An experimenter recruited participants by asking them to take a short
research survey before assigning them to condition. In the immediate-reward condition, the
experimenter said, “For working on the survey, we’re offering a piece of chocolate.” Participants
had a choice between a milk chocolate truffle and a chocolate hazelnut truffle. After making their
selection, the experimenter handed participants a survey, asking them to complete it before
eating. In the delayed-reward condition, the experimenter showed participants the chocolates and
said, “After you finish the survey, you’ll receive a piece of chocolate.” After participants
completed the survey, they selected their chocolate. We required all participants to complete the
survey before eating the chocolate.
At the end of the survey (which contained filler items irrelevant to our hypothesis, see
Appendix A), we included three items measuring intrinsic motivation (similar to Study 1): (1)
“How enjoyable was working on this survey?” (2) “How interesting was this survey?” (0 = not at
all, 6 = very much), and (3) “To what extent did filling out the survey feel more like work or
more like fun?” (-3 = more like work, 3 = more like fun). We also measured participants’ interest
in the task absent a chocolate reward (i.e., during a free-choice period; modeled after Calder &
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 14
Staw, 1975): (4) “If we had another similar survey for you to work on in the future, but that did
not offer candy, would you be interested in working on it?” (0 = not at all, 6 = very much).
Results and Discussion
We coded the four items measuring intrinsic motivation on a scale from 0 to 6 and
collapsed them (α = .78). As predicted, intrinsic motivation was higher for a task offering an
immediate reward (M = 3.52, SD = .94) compared with a delayed reward (M = 3.03, SD = .94),
t(99) = 2.57, 95% CIdiff = [.11, .85], p = .012, d = .52. Participants who received the chocolate
with (vs. after) the experimental task, found the task more intrinsically motivating, even though
none of them consumed the chocolate until after the task ended.
In this study, we were constrained to providing the chocolate compensation in close
proximity to the task, both in the immediate and delayed conditions, which possibly manipulated
not only temporal distance, but also spatial distance. Theoretically, temporal and spatial distance
both operate by influencing the strength of the activity-goal association. However, our primary
focus is to understand the effect of reward timing on intrinsic motivation. To more directly test
this question, we moved to an online platform, which allowed us to compare an immediate bonus
provided after completing a task (similar to the delayed condition from Study 2), with a more
delayed reward—a bonus that arrives a month later.
Study 3: Immediate Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation Compared with Delayed and
Participants in Study 3 received a bonus upon task completion or one month later. We
also added a no-bonus control group. In addition to earning a fixed payment for completing their
experimental task, some participants learned of a bonus payment for working on a spot-the-
difference task (delivered immediately or with a delay), whereas the other participants did not
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 15
expect to receive a bonus (no bonus reward control). With this third condition, we tested our
prediction that an immediate bonus increases intrinsic motivation compared with either a delayed
bonus or no bonus.
In this study, we also introduced a behavioral measure of intrinsic motivation by
adjusting the free-choice paradigm to this context (Lepper, 1981; Lepper & Greene, 1978). We
predicted participants who received an immediate bonus (vs. a delayed or no bonus) would want
to continue the same spot-the-difference task even with no additional compensation.
Participants. We opened the study for 225 (n = 75 per cell) HITs on MTurk. A total of
223 workers participated in the study for monetary compensation (Mage = 38.56, SD = 12.62; 127
female; two participants (one from each condition) dropped the survey after random assignment.
Procedure. This study employed a 3 (bonus-reward timing: immediate-bonus vs.
delayed-bonus control vs. no-bonus control) between-participants design. All participants
worked on the experiment for a fixed payment of $0.30. Some participants learned of a $0.60
bonus that was tied to completing a spot-the-difference task: a third of the participants learned
this $0.60 bonus would automatically pay out immediately after they finished the spot-the-
difference task (immediate-bonus), whereas another third learned the $0.60 bonus would be
automatically paid to them one month after completing the spot-the-difference task (delayed-
bonus control). A final third of participants did not expect to receive a bonus for completing the
spot-the-difference task (no-bonus control).
Participants completed a study, presumably on visual perception, which involved
completing a spot-the-difference task (see Appendix B). They viewed two similar images and
had to locate four out of five preexisting differences between them, by clicking on the part of the
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 16
image that was different, which left a red dot there. They received progress feedback for each
difference they found (e.g., “You found 1/5 differences!”). After successfully locating four
differences, participants answered questions assessing intrinsic motivation to work on the spot-
the-different task. The first two were taken from Studies 1-2: (1) “How much did you enjoy
working on this spot-the-difference task?” and (2) “How interesting was this spot-the-difference
task?” We included a reverse-coded measure to reduce acquiescent bias: (3) “How dull or boring
was this spot-the-difference task?” (0 = not at all, 6 = very much). As an additional measure, we
asked: (4) “Completing tasks like this can be something you have to do or something you want to
do. To what extent did working on this spot-the-difference task feel like something you had to do
or feel like something you wanted to do?” (0 = something I had to do, 6 = something I wanted to
do). Previous research used similar items to assess intrinsic motivation (e.g., have-to vs. want-to
goals; Milyavskaya, Inzlicht, Hope, & Koestner, 2015). A response closer to “wanted to do”
represented greater intrinsic motivation (e.g., Reeve, Jang, Hardre, & Omura, 2002; Reeve, Nix,
& Hamm, 2003; Ryan, 1982).
As a behavioral measure of intrinsic motivation, we next assessed participants’ task
selection in a free-choice paradigm. That is, we measured whether participants chose to continue
engaging in the focal task or end the survey, for no extra compensation (Lepper, 1981; Lepper &
Greene, 1978). If participants chose to engage in the task for no additional compensation, we
took this as evidence that they were intrinsically motivated to do so. Participants read “You now
have a choice, you can continue working on the spot-the-difference task to find the 5th and final
difference, or you can end the study.” Depending on their choice, participants ended the study
either after finding the last difference or right then.
Results and Discussion
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 17
We collapsed the four items measuring intrinsic motivation after reverse coding (α = .90).
An ANOVA revealed a significant effect of reward timing, F(2, 220) = 6.16, p = .002, ηp2 = .05
(See Figure 1). As predicted, an immediate bonus increased intrinsic motivation to pursue the
spot-the-difference task compared with a delayed bonus (Mimmediate = 5.41, SD = 1.04; Mdelayed =
4.97, SD = 1.20), t(220) = 2.26, p = .025, d = .39. An immediate bonus further increased intrinsic
motivation compared with a no-bonus control condition (Mno bonus = 4.74, SD = 1.33), t(220) =
3.45, p < .001, d = .56, with no difference between delayed- and no-bonus conditions, t(220) =
1.18, p = .238, d = .18.
We next analyzed intrinsic motivation using the free-choice paradigm of continued
engagement using a binary logistic regression on choice to continue the task (1 = yes, 0 = no)
that included two dummy predictors for delayed- and no-bonus conditions. As predicted,
participants in the immediate condition were more likely to continue the reading task (84.2%)
compared with those in the delayed (70.3%), B = -.81, 95% CI = [-1.63, -.04], z = -2.01, p =
.044, Odds Ratio (OR) = .44, or no-bonus conditions (52.1%), B = -1.59, 95% CI = [-2.39, -.85],
z = -4.06, p < .001, OR = .20 (see Figure 2). (There was also an unpredicted difference between
the two control conditions (delayed vs. no bonus), B = -.78, 95% CI = [-1.47, -.11], z = -2.25, p =
.024, OR = .46). For a conceptual replication of this study using a different paradigm, see Study
2 in the Supplemental Materials.
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 18
An immediate bonus increased self-reported intrinsic motivation to work on a spot-the-difference
task compared with a delayed bonus or no bonus (Study 3. Error bars represent SEM).
An immediate bonus increased the likelihood of choosing to continue a spot-the-difference task
with no additional compensation compared with a delayed bonus or no bonus (Study 3).
4.97 5.41 4.74
($0.60 in a month) Immediate Bonus
($0.60 now) No Bonus
($0.60 in a month) Immediate Bonus
($0.60 now) No Bonus
Percentage Continuing the Task
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 19
Overall, we found that adding an immediate bonus to a spot-the-difference task increases
intrinsic motivation on self-report and behavioral (the free-choice paradigm) measures compared
with delayed and no bonus conditions. We next tested for the process underlying the effect of
immediate rewards, predicting that immediacy strengthens the activity-goal association, thereby
increasing intrinsic motivation.
Study 4: Immediate versus Delayed Rewards Strengthen the Activity-Goal Association,
Thereby Increasing Intrinsic, but not Extrinsic Motivation
We predicted that an earlier reward would lead an activity to be more closely associated
(i.e., fused) with its goal, which would in turn mediate the effect of immediacy on increased
intrinsic motivation. In Study 4, we accordingly measured the activity-goal association with a
modified version of the self-other overlap scale (Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992). Specifically, we
created a set of Venn-like diagrams consisting of two circles—one representing the activity
(reading) and one representing the goal (receiving rewards), with varying degrees of overlap. At
a cognitive level, the activity and the goal become closely associated such that the boundary
between them is blurred, resulting in the selection of more heavily overlapped circles. We
predicted that a reading task offering an immediate bonus would lead to greater perceptual
overlap between reading and receiving bonus rewards, which in turn would increase intrinsic
motivation to read. In addition, we tested for discriminant validity: whether immediate rewards
increase intrinsic motivation (e.g., positive experience), but not extrinsic motivation (e.g.,
perceived outcome importance).
Participants. Basing our sample size on Supplemental Study 2 (n = 60 per cell), we
opened the study for 120 HITs on MTurk. All participants first answered “Have you ever read
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 20
part of the book Big Magic?” Twelve participants indicated yes to this question and were
directed to a separate screen stating “You are not eligible for this study.” A total of 119 workers
indicated no and participated for monetary compensation (Mage = 34.80, SD = 11.32; 57 female;
four participants dropped the survey after random assignment; immediate: n = 2, delayed: n = 2).
Procedure. This study employed a 2 (bonus-reward timing: immediate vs. delayed;
between-participants) × 2 (motivation: intrinsic vs. extrinsic; within-participants) mixed-model
design. All participants worked on the experiment for a fixed payment ($0.40) and learned of a
$0.25 bonus that was tied to completing a reading task. Those in the immediate-reward condition
learned this bonus would be automatically paid out immediately after they finished the reading
task, whereas those in the delayed-reward condition learned the bonus would be automatically
paid to them one month after completing the reading task.
Participants read the first five pages of a book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert. Participants learned the researchers were pilot testing reading material and
that they should “Read each page of the excerpt in its entirety as you will be answering questions
about what you have read at the end of the task.”
After reading the excerpt, participants answered questions assessing their intrinsic
motivation to read the book (from Studies 1-3): “How much did you enjoy reading this book
excerpt?” and “How interesting was this book excerpt to read?” Participants also answered
questions assessing their extrinsic motivation to read the book: “How motivated were you to
receive the outcome by finishing the reading task?” and “How important was it to you to receive
the outcome in this task?” (0 = not at all, 6 = very much). These measures follow from our
definition of extrinsic motivation as motivation to achieve outcomes that result from pursuing an
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 21
activity, and assess outcome-focused motivation (i.e., finishing the task; Brehm & Self, 1989;
Locke & Latham, 1990; Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014; Woolley & Fishbach, 2015).
To capture the degree of overlap between the activity (reading) and the goal (receiving a
bonus reward), we created seven pairs of circles that overlapped to different degrees, from
completely separate (coded as 0) to largely overlapped (coded as 6). One set of circles
represented the activity—reading—and the other set of circles represented the goal—receiving
rewards (see Appendix C). Participants read: “Think about the reading task you just worked on.
In your mind, to what extent does “receiving rewards” capture the experience of reading?
Indicate whether the experience of receiving rewards does versus does not closely define the
experience of reading this excerpt” (0 = completely separate circles, 6 = very overlapped
circles). Finally, participants completed a manipulation-check item “When did you expect the
bonus for this study to arrive?” (0 = immediately, 6 = in a long time).
Results and Discussion
Confirming our manipulation, participants in the immediate-reward condition expected
the bonus to arrive earlier than those in the delayed-reward condition (Mimmediate = 2.38, SD =
1.58; Mdelayed = 4.88, SD = 1.46), t(117) = 8.94, p < .001, 95% CIdiff = [1.95, 3.06], d = 1.64.
We collapsed the items measuring intrinsic motivation (enjoyable, good experience; r =
.90) and extrinsic motivation (motivated by outcome, outcome importance; r = .55). A repeated-
measures ANOVA of reward timing (immediate vs. delayed) on motivation (intrinsic vs.
extrinsic) yielded the predicted interaction, F(1, 117) = 7.70, p = .006, ηp2 = .06 (Figure 3), with
no main effect of motivation, F(1, 117) = 1.24, p = .268, ηp2 = .01, or timing F(1, 117) = 1.84, p
= .178, ηp2 = .02. Participants were more intrinsically motivated in the immediate- versus
delayed-reward condition (Mimmediate = 4.72, SD = 1.19; Mdelayed = 4.01, SD = 1.80), t(97.86) =
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 22
2.54, p = .013, 95% CIdiff = [.16, 1.27], d = .47. However, there was no effect of timing on
extrinsic motivation (Mimmediate = 4.47, SD = 1.37; Mdelayed = 4.60, SD = 1.29), t(117) = .56, p =
.578, 95% CIdiff = [-.62, .35, d = .10.
An immediate (vs. delayed) bonus increased intrinsic, but not extrinsic motivation to read (Study
4. Error bars represent SEM).
Activity-goal association and mediation analysis.
We next analyzed the activity-goal-association measure. As predicted, participants
perceived reading and receiving rewards as more strongly associated in the immediate- versus
delayed-reward condition (Mimmediate = 3.39, SD = 1.71; Mdelayed = 2.57, SD = 1.92), t(117) = 2.48,
p = .015, 95% CIdiff = [.17, 1.48], d = .45.
Moreover, we found that the activity-goal (reading-rewards) association mediated the
effect of reward timing on intrinsic motivation (βindirect = .16, SE = .07; 95% CI = [.04, .32];
based on 10,000 bootstrap samples; Hayes, 2012). Reward timing (immediate vs. delayed)
positively predicted intrinsic motivation (B = .36, 95% CI = [.08, .63], p = .012) and the activity-
goal association (B = .41, 95% CI = [.08, .74], p = .015). Controlling for the activity-goal
Intrinsic Motivation Extrinsic Motivation
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 23
association reduced the effect of reward timing on intrinsic motivation (B = .20, 95% CI = [-.05,
.45], p = .122), whereas the activity-goal association remained a significant predictor of intrinsic
motivation (B = .38, 95% CI = [.25, .52], p < .001).
This study provided support for the prediction that the strength of the activity-goal
association mediates the effect of reward timing on intrinsic motivation. The earlier delivery of a
reward for reading led people to perceive greater overlap between reading (activity) and
receiving rewards (goal), increasing intrinsic motivation. Moreover, immediate (vs. delayed)
rewards increased intrinsic motivation, but not extrinsic motivation. When a reading task
provided more immediate rewards, participants felt the task provided a greater positive
experience, but did not perceive the task as providing a more valuable outcome.
Study 5: Immediate Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation More than Larger Rewards
Does immediacy increase intrinsic motivation only because the magnitude of immediate
rewards is psychologically larger (i.e., through temporal discounting; Ainslie & Haslam, 1992;
Frederick et al., 2002)? To test our account against an explanation based on discounting of
delayed rewards, Study 5 examined the alternative that immediate rewards are more motivating
because they are psychologically larger than delayed rewards. Notably, the results of Study 4 are
already inconsistent with such an alternative because larger rewards should increase both
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which is opposite our findings. Yet, to better assess whether
reward magnitude underlies the effect of timing, Study 5 independently varied reward timing
(immediate vs. delayed bonus) and reward magnitude (large vs. small bonus) in order to test
whether the effect of timing can be explained in terms of the effect of magnitude. We predicted
that moving the rewards earlier in time would have an independent and stronger effect on
intrinsic motivation than increasing the size of the rewards, which would suggest that the effect
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 24
of timing cannot be explained in terms of higher subjective magnitude of immediate rewards. For
discriminant validity, we again compared the effect on intrinsic motivation to the effect on
To compare the motivational impact of a sooner (vs. later) reward with that of a larger
(vs. smaller) reward, we needed to choose differences in delivery times that were comparable to
differences in dollar amounts. Specifically, we wanted participants to indicate that the difference
in the dollar amount of our stimuli was at least as motivating as (or even more motivating than)
the difference in the timing of our stimuli. With that purpose in mind, we used the time
difference from Studies 3-4 (now vs. in one month) and an amount difference of $1.00 ($0.50 vs.
$1.50). We tested whether people prefer to earn an additional $1.00 bonus at least as much as
they prefer to receive a bonus one month earlier. Specifically, if most people prefer to wait a
month to earn $1.00 more on an experiment, we can conclude the difference in amounts we used
is no less (and actually more) motivating than the difference in delivery times.
For our pilot study, we recruited a total of 99 participants on MTurk (Mage = 35.53, SD =
11.09; 55 female; no participants dropped the survey). Participants imagined working on a five-
minute book-reading task in exchange for a $0.25 base payment plus a bonus. We asked, “Which
bonus would you prefer? $0.50 bonus immediately after you complete the task or $1.50 bonus 1
month after you complete the task.” We found that 67.7% (n = 67) of participants preferred the
larger-later bonus, which is greater than chance (z = 3.42, p < .001). Given that the larger-later
bonus was more attractive than the smaller-sooner bonus, we assume that an increase of $1.00 is
no less motivating than delivering the bonus one month earlier. We therefore tested whether
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 25
providing the bonus one month earlier increases intrinsic motivation more than adding $1.00 to
the bonus does.
Participants. We collected data from 206 workers on MTurk who participated for
monetary compensation (Mage = 37.90, SD = 13.26; 115 female; 14 participants dropped the
survey after random assignment; immediate-small: n = 2, immediate-large: n = 3, delayed-small:
n = 5, delayed-large: n = 4).
Procedure. This study employed a 2 (reward timing: immediate vs. delayed; between-
participants) × 2 (reward magnitude: smaller vs. larger; between-participants) × 2 (motivation:
intrinsic vs. extrinsic; within-participants) mixed-model design. Participants received $0.25 for
working on a book-reading task (adopted from Study 4). In the immediate-reward condition,
participants expected a bonus within an hour of finishing the reading task. In the delayed-reward
condition, they expected a bonus one month after finishing the task. We further manipulated the
size of the bonus such that participants expected to receive either a smaller $0.50 bonus or a
larger $1.50 bonus.
Participants read the five-page book excerpt from Study 4 and then answered questions
assessing their intrinsic motivation to read the book: “How interesting was this book excerpt for
you to read?” and “How much did you enjoy reading this book excerpt?” (1 = not very
interesting/did not enjoy, 7 = very interesting/enjoyed very much). We also assessed their
extrinsic motivation: “How motivated were you to finish the reading task?” and “How important
was it to you to receive the outcome?” (1 = not very motivated/important, 7 = very
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 26
To measure intrinsic motivation with the free-choice paradigm, participants learned two
minutes remained in the study, and in this time, they could continue reading the book excerpt or
complete another task. All participants read that no additional bonuses were available for the
remainder of the study. Participants chose to continue reading or to work on something else, and
spent two minutes on the selected task (reading task or dot-counting task).
Results and Discussion
A repeated-measures ANOVA of intrinsic motivation (enjoy, interesting; r = .91) and
extrinsic motivation (motivated by outcome, outcome importance; r = .67) on reward timing
(immediate vs. delayed) and reward magnitude (small vs. large) resulted in a three-way
interaction, F(1, 202) = 5.08, p = .025, ηp2 = .02. To explore the three-way interaction, we
examined the timing × magnitude interaction for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation measures
separately. An ANOVA of intrinsic motivation revealed the predicted effect of reward timing,
F(1, 202) = 5.74, p = .017, ηp2 = .03, with no effect of reward magnitude, F(1, 202) = 1.86, p =
.175, or interaction, F(1, 202) = 1.22, p = .272. Immediate (vs. delayed) rewards increased
intrinsic motivation (Mimmediate = 6.01, SD = 1.15; Mdelayed = 5.58, SD = 1.43).
An ANOVA of extrinsic motivation on reward timing and magnitude revealed no
significant effect of reward timing, F(1, 202) = 1.21, p = .273, reward magnitude, F(1, 202) =
1.63, p = .204, or interaction, F(1, 202) = .80, p = .371. Whereas more immediate rewards
increased intrinsic motivation (positive experience), they once again had no similar effect on
extrinsic motivation (outcome importance).
We next analyzed intrinsic motivation using our free-choice measure. We regressed
choice (1 = continue reading; 0 = other task) on reward timing (1 = immediate; 0 = delayed),
magnitude (1 = $0.50; 0 = $1.50) and their interaction, revealing no interaction, B = -.31, 95% CI
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 27
= [-1.51, .86], z = -.52, p = .603, OR = .73. Examining main effects of timing and magnitude, as
predicted, participants in the immediate reward condition were more likely to continue the
reading task (73.3%) compared with the delayed reward condition (54.5%), B = .84, 95% CI =
[.26, 1.44], z = 2.80, p = .005, OR = 2.32 (Figure 4). There was a marginal effect of magnitude, B
= -.50, 95% CI = -1.09, .09], z = -1.66, p = .097, OR = .61.
An immediate bonus reward increased the likelihood of choosing to continue to read compared
with a delayed bonus reward, with no effect of the magnitude of the bonus on choice (Study 5).
Overall, results of Study 5 suggest it is unlikely that immediate rewards increase intrinsic
motivation because they appear psychologically larger. Larger rewards did not significantly
increase intrinsic motivation. In addition, we replicated the results of Study 4, where an earlier
reward increased intrinsic, but not extrinsic motivation.
Notably, the magnitude of the reward could also potentially influence intrinsic
motivation. On the one hand, consistent with the overjustification effect (Lepper et al., 1973), a
larger payment may lead participants to infer that a task will be less pleasant and fun, decreasing
intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, consistent with animal conditioning research, a larger
Immediate Bonus Delayed Bonus
Percent Continuing Reading Task
Small Bonus ($0.50)
Large Bonus ($1.50)
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 28
reward could increase association strength between the activity and the outcome, leading to
increased intrinsic motivation (Hull, 1943; Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). Possibly, these two
effects cancelled each other out, such that the size of the reward did not influence intrinsic
motivation in either direction. Alternatively, in Study 5, the size of the reward did not influence
intrinsic motivation because participants were unaware their payment was large, a point
discussed further in the General Discussion.
Across five studies and two supplemental studies, we provide evidence that immediate
rewards increase intrinsic motivation by strengthening the activity-goal association. People were
more intrinsically motivated to watch a news clip after framing the rewards for doing so as
arriving immediately (vs. with a delay; Study 1), and they were more intrinsically motivated to
complete an experimental task that provided an immediate (vs. delayed) chocolate reward (Study
2) or immediate monetary bonus (vs. delayed or no bonus; Study 3).
We further found immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation by strengthening the
activity-goal association (Study 4), and that temporal discounting is not part of the process.
Whereas delayed rewards can be psychologically smaller, a larger reward did not increase
intrinsic motivation as much as an earlier reward did (Study 5). Moreover, the effect of timing
was unique to intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation (discriminant validity, Studies 4-5). Indeed,
immediate rewards rendered the experience of pursuing an activity more positive, but did not
render the outcome of the activity as more important.
Our findings support the means-ends fusion model of intrinsic motivation (Kruglanski et
al., in press), though unlike previous research (e.g., Fishbach et al., 2004), the source of the
association between an activity and a goal was the temporal proximity. Our model, and the
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 29
structural perspective it offers, differs from yet complements research on self-determination
theory (SDT), which identified certain contents that tend to be intrinsically motivating (Ryan &
Deci, 2000). SDT proposes that intrinsic actions serve at least one of three end goals: autonomy,
competence, and relatedness. We argue that SDT’s three goal domains provide instances in
which a strong association exists between an activity and its goal. For example, medical students
who were given more autonomy when learning were more intrinsically motivated (Williams &
Deci, 1996) because learning and becoming autonomous were strongly associated for them—
they felt autonomous while learning as opposed to after some delay. Indeed, in our research, we
adopted SDT measures of intrinsic motivation (Ryan, 1982) to test our predictions.
Where our work may appear to diverge from prior work (e.g., by Lepper, 1981; Lepper &
Greene, 1978) is that we found extrinsic rewards, such as bonuses, increase rather than decrease
intrinsic motivation. Whereas the previously documented overjustification effect surfaces when
the association between an activity and its goal is weakened through the provision of an
additional goal, our research compares intrinsic motivation in a rewarded activity where
everyone expects a reward (e.g., a paid job), and we vary the reward timing. In such cases, the
presence of a reward does not decrease the experience of an activity as intrinsically motivated,
and we can test for the effect of reward timing. Only in Study 3 did we add a no-bonus condition,
yet everyone received a reward for the activity (i.e., a paid experiment), and as such, the
presence of a bonus did not crowd out intrinsic motivation.
Our findings are further relevant to research on conditioning, which has demonstrated
how the association between an activity and a reward can facilitate liking of the rewarded task
even after removing the reward (De Houwer et al., 2001; Razran, 1954). Specifically, evaluative
conditioning is concerned with changes in the evaluation response to a conditioned stimulus (CS)
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 30
in response to the CS being temporally and/or spatially paired with an unconditioned stimulus
(US; Hofmann, De Houwer, Perugini, Baeyens, & Crombez, 2010; Rozin & Zellner, 1985).
Unlike Pavlovian conditioning, which addresses changes in any type of response (e.g., salivation,
skin conductance), evaluative conditioning is specific to changes in liking (De Houwer, 2007;
Walther, 2002). Our results are consistent with an explanation based on evaluative conditioning,
except that we measured intrinsic motivation instead of general evaluation and we did not find
effects on extrinsic motivation measures. This finding suggests the immediacy of rewards does
not condition participants to evaluate a task as more positive in general (e.g., as providing more
important outcomes), but rather, as more intrinsically motivating.
Finally, our results are relevant to research on the effect of immediate rewards on
increased goal persistence (Acland & Levy, 2015; John et al., 2011; Volpp et al., 2008; Woolley
& Fishbach, 2016). For example, associating immediate rewards, such as listening to a popular
novel, with a workout increased exercise frequency (Milkman, Minson, & Volpp, 2013). Our
research suggests immediate (vs. delayed) rewards boost persistence by increasing intrinsic
motivation, such that the activity itself is more enjoyable. Indeed, research examining ways to
counteract self-control depletion found that after engaging in a depleting task, associating the
task with financial incentives (Boksem, Meijman, & Lorist, 2006) or with an immediately
rewarding experience (Derrick, 2013; Friese, Messner, & Schaffner, 2012), bolstered subsequent
self-control. Possibly immediate rewards improve performance by increasing intrinsic
Boundary Conditions, Limitations, and Open Questions
Possibly, immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation by changing the meaning of
the activity. For example, people pursuing exercise for an immediate reward may envision
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 31
exercising as “running + watching TV” instead of just “running.” Indeed, the meaning of
activities is fluid, dynamic, and consists of associative networks for how people construe a given
activity within a given context (Anderson & Pirolli, 1984; Collins & Loftus, 1975), and one
consequence of having a close activity-goal association is that positive properties of goal
attainment bleed into and come to color the experience of pursuing the rewarded activity
(Fishbach et al., 2004). Although it is possible reflecting on immediate rewards could change the
meaning of the activity, what is critical for our analysis is that in our studies, rewards did not
change the behaviors people actually engaged in when pursuing the activity (e.g., those who
received an immediate chocolate reward when completing a survey were not eating chocolate
while completing the survey). Thus, whereas immediate rewards may sometimes change the
meaning of the activity, they do not change what people do.
It is also worth distinguishing the effect of reward immediacy from that of misattribution.
Misattribution occurs when task irrelevant stimuli (e.g., pleasant images, music, and room
temperature while performing the task) color one’s experience such that the task appears more
intrinsically motivating (e.g., Leander, Kay, Chartrand, & Payne, 2017). Importantly, however,
the reward for a task is not an irrelevant stimulus; rather, the reward is the goal of the task.
Therefore, people correctly attribute (rather than incorrectly misattribute) the reward (i.e., the
goal) to the task (i.e., the means). The variable that predicts intrinsic motivation is the strength of
the means-ends (activity-goal) association and the psychological processes that explain the
strength of this association are conditioning and emotional transfer, which lead the positive
aspects of goal attainment to become associated with the activity (Fishbach et al., 2004). For
example, the excitement associated with the bonus rewards, which is correctly attributed to
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 32
completing the task, transfers to the experience of pursuing the activity as a function of the
A potential alternative explanation for the effect of immediacy is that closer rewards can
be psychologically larger, due to temporal discounting and, therefore, immediate rewards are
motivating because they are larger. We note that in Study 5, we compared more immediate
rewards to larger rewards and found only immediate rewards increased intrinsic motivation. Yet,
this test requires that the differences in timing are similar to the differences in magnitude of
rewards. And whereas our pilot test identified people were more sensitive to differences in dollar
amounts (i.e., $0.50 vs. $1.50) than differences in delivery time (i.e., today vs. a month), it is
possible participants need a reference point for evaluating reward magnitude (but less so to
evaluate reward timing). We further believe it is possible that larger rewards do indeed increase
intrinsic motivation—it is only less likely that such an effect of reward magnitude accounted for
the effect of reward timing we observed in our studies.
A boundary condition could refer to savoring behavior. There are situations where people
prefer to delay consumption, such as savoring the anticipation of a future event like a vacation or
drinking a bottle of nice wine (Loewenstein, 1987). It is possible in these situations that
immediacy would not be desirable and would not serve to increase intrinsic motivation.
In addition to exploring alternative explanations and boundary conditions, open questions
include what other variables affect the experience of fusion between an activity and its goal, and
thus can foster intrinsic motivation. In particular, perceived similarity, or fit, between an activity
and its goal can strengthen their association (Higgins, 2000; Higgins, Idson, Freitas, Spiegel, &
Molden, 2003). Indeed, anticipated and actual enjoyment of an activity increased as the fit
between the activity and people’s regulatory focus increased (Freitas & Higgins, 2002),
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 33
potentially by increasing intrinsic motivation. One would predict that a more fitting goal (e.g., a
free water bottle for those signing up for an exercise class) might increase intrinsic motivation
compared with a less fitting goal (e.g., a free soda for an exercise class).
Although we provide initial insight into the role of immediacy in increasing intrinsic
motivation, the present work is not without limitations. First, we relied on the modified IOS scale
in providing evidence for the process underlying the effect of immediacy—that immediacy
strengthens the activity-goal association, which in turn increases intrinsic motivation. Future
research should examine other means of assessing this association (e.g., implicit measures).
Second, we relied on online, MTurk paradigms. Although online paradigms are ideal for
manipulating temporal distance separately from spatial distance, a limitation of using online paid
workers is that results may differ for people that like their job more or who are not paid at all.
Finally, delayed rewards may appear less reliable or certain than immediate rewards, although
notably, we worked to mitigate this, for example, by explicitly stating that bonus rewards would
be automatically delivered and by using online payments where there are not costs associated
with needing to remember to cash the reward. This limitation is inherent to studies with temporal
delays, and is not unique to our paradigms, yet to the extent that any discounting procedure
evokes uncertainty about the availability of future rewards, the present research too could have
unintentionally manipulated uncertainty in rewards.
In summary, we found immediacy increases intrinsic motivation by strengthening the
activity-goal association. The temporal distance between an activity and its goal matters and so,
to be intrinsically motivated to finish this article, it would be ideal to consider the benefits of
reading as immediate, rather than delayed.
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 34
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This article is based on the first author’s dissertation. The authors would like to thank Jane L.
Risen, Ann L. McGill, and Oleg Urminsky for their helpful feedback. The raw data for all studies
are available in an online data repository (osf.io/yhw85).
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 44
Survey from Study 2:
Participants completed a five-minute survey during which they imagined meeting and getting
acquainted with a new friend. They read, “This person can tell you things about themselves in
order for you to get to know them better. Please read the statements below that your new friend
could tell you and think about how you will view your friend based on these statements”: (1)
“Imagine your new friend tells you they are taking an elective class on computer programming to
gain useful professional connections,” (2) “Imagine your new friend tells you they read news
articles to get conversation topics to discuss with others,” and (3) “Imagine your new friend tells
you they own a nice cookbook to impress people with their meals.” For each statement,
participants answered two questions: “How well will you know your new friend after learning
they engaged in this activity?” (0 = know less, 6 = know more) and “How much will you like
your new friend after learning they engaged in this activity?” (0 = like less, 6 = like more).
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 45
Spot-the-difference task from Study 3:
Immediacy Increases Intrinsic Motivation 46
Measure of activity-goal association used in Study 4.