Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI)

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Scale Description

The Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) is a multidimensional measurement device intended to assess participants’ subjective experience related to a target activity in laboratory experiments. It has been used in several experiments related to intrinsic motivation and self-regulation (e.g., Ryan, 1982; Ryan, Mims & Koestner, 1983; Plant & Ryan, 1985; Ryan, Connell, & Plant, 1990; Ryan, Koestner & Deci, 1991; Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994). The instrument assesses participants’ interest/enjoyment, perceived competence, effort, value/usefulness, felt pressure and tension, and perceived choice while performing a given activity, thus yielding six subscale scores. Recently, a seventh subscale has been added to tap the experiences of relatedness, although the validity of this subscale has yet to be established. The interest/enjoyment subscale is considered the self-report measure of intrinsic motivation; thus, although the overall questionnaire is called the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory, it is only the one subscale that assesses intrinsic motivation, per se. As a result, the interest/enjoyment subscale often has more items on it than the others. The perceived choice and perceived competence concepts are theorized to be positive predictors of both self-report and behavioral measures of intrinsic motivation, and pressure/tension is theorized to be a negative predictor of intrinsic motivation. Effort is a separate variable that is relevant to some motivation questions, so it is used if its relevant. The value/usefulness subscale is used in internalization studies (e.g., Deci et al, 1994), the idea being that people internalize and become self-regulating with respect to activities that they experience as useful or valuable for themselves. Finally, the relatedness subscale is used in studies having to do with interpersonal interactions, friendship formation, and so on.

The IMI consists of varied numbers of items from these subscales, all of which have been shown to be factor analytically coherent and stable across a variety of tasks, conditions, and settings. The general criteria for inclusion of items on subscales have been a factor loading of at least 0.6 on the appropriate subscale, and no cross loadings above 0.4. Typically, loadings substantially exceed these criteria. Nonetheless, we recommend that investigators perform their own factor analyses on new data sets. Past research suggests that order effects of item presentation appear to be negligible, and the inclusion or exclusion of specific subscales appears to have no impact on the others. Thus, it is rare that all items have been used in a particular experiment. Instead, experimenters have chosen the subscales that are relevant to the issues they are exploring.

The IMI items have often been modified slightly to fit specific activities. For example, an item such as “I tried very hard to do well at this activity” can be changed to “I tried very hard to do well on these puzzles” or “…in learning this material” without effecting its reliability or validity. As one can readily tell, there is nothing subtle about these items; they are quite face-valid. However, in part, because of their straightforward nature, caution is needed in interpretation. We have found, for example, that correlations between self-reports of effort or interest and behavioral indices of these dimensions are quite modest–often around 0.4. Like other self-report measures, there is always the need to appropriately interpret how and why participants report as they do. Ego-involvements, self-presentation styles, reactance, and other psychological dynamics must be considered. For example, in a study by Ryan, Koestner, and Deci (1991), we found that when participants were ego involved, they engaged in pressured persistence during a free choice period and this behavior did not correlate with the self-reports of interest/enjoyment. In fact, we concluded that to be confident in one’s assessment of intrinsic motivation, one needs to find that the free-choice behavior and the self-reports of interest/enjoyment are significantly correlated.

Another issue is that of redundancy. Items within the subscales overlap considerably, although randomizing their presentation makes this less salient to most participants. Nonetheless, shorter versions have been used and have been found to be quite reliable. The incremental R for every item above 4 for any given factor is quite small. Still, it is very important to recognize that multiple item subscales consistently outperform single items for obvious reasons, and they have better external validity.

On the scale page, there are five sections. First, the full 45 items that make up the 7 subscales are shown, along with information on constructing your own IMI and scoring it. Then, there are four specific versions of the IMI that have been used in past studies. This should give you a sense of the different ways it has been used. These have different numbers of items and different numbers of subscales, and they concern different activities. First, there is a standard, 22-item version that has been used in several studies, with four subscales: interest/enjoyment, perceived competence, perceived choice, and pressure/tension. Second, there is a short 9-item version concerned with the activity of reading some text material; it has three subscales: interest/enjoyment, perceived competence, and pressure/tension. There is also the 25-item version that was used in the internalization study, including the three subscales of value/usefulness, interest/enjoyment, and perceived choice. Finally, there is a 29-item version of the interpersonal relatedness questionnaire that has five subscales: relatedness, interest/enjoyment, perceived choice, pressure/tension, and effort.

Finally, McAuley, Duncan, and Tammen (1989) did a study to examine the validity of the IMI and found strong support for its validity. Tsigilis and Theodosiou (2003) also found a Greek version of the scale to be reliable.


Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. (1994). Facilitating internalization: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62, 119-142.
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McAuley, E., Duncan, T., & Tammen, V. V. (1989). Psychometric properties of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory in a competitive sport setting: A confirmatory factor analysis. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 60, 48-58.
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Plant, R. W., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and the effects of self-consciousness, self-awareness, and ego-involvement: An investigation of internally-controlling styles. Journal of Personality, 53, 435-449.
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Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intrapersonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 450-461.
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Ryan, R. M., Connell, J. P., & Plant, R. W. (1990). Emotions in non-directed text learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 2, 1-17.
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Ryan, R. M., Koestner, R., & Deci, E. L. (1991). Varied forms of persistence: When free-choice behavior is not intrinsically motivated. Motivation and Emotion, 15, 185-205.
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Ryan, R. M., Mims, V., & Koestner, R. (1983). Relation of reward contingency and interpersonal context to intrinsic motivation: A review and test using cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 736-750.

Tsigilis, N., & Theodosiou, A. (2003). Temporal stability of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 97, 271-280.