The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goals, and between goal pursuit for intrinsically and extrinsically motivated reasons, is a central premise of self-determination theory. Proponents of the theory have proposed that the pursuit of intrinsic goals and intrinsically motivated goal striving each predict adaptive psychological and behavioral outcomes relative to the pursuit of extrinsic goals and extrinsically motivated goal striving. Despite evidence to support these predictions, research has not explored whether individuals naturally differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Two studies tested whether people make this differentiation when recalling goals for leisure-time physical activity. Using memory-recall methods, participants in Study 1 were asked to freely generate physical activity goals. A subsample (N = 43) was asked to code their freely generated goals as intrinsic or extrinsic. In Study 2, participants were asked to recall intrinsic and extrinsic goals after making a decision regarding their future physical activity. Results of these studies revealed that individuals’ goal generation and recall exhibited significant clustering by goal type. Participants encountered some difficulties when explicitly coding goals. Findings support self-determination theory and indicate that individuals discriminate between intrinsic and extrinsic goals.
Sarah McLachlan is with the School of Psychology, University Park, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom. Martin S. Hagger is now of the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, Australia.