Seminar Paper (TUM) - Prosocial Motivation

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Technische Universität München TUM School of Management PROSOCIAL MOTIVATION Seminar Paper Chair: Prof. Dr. Isabell M. Welpe, Lehrstuhl für Strategie und Organisation Author: Alejandro Aznar Argelich, Matr. Nr. 03295680

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Page 1: Seminar Paper (TUM) - Prosocial Motivation

Technische Universität München

TUM School of Management



Seminar Paper

Chair: Prof. Dr. Isabell M. Welpe, Lehrstuhl für Strategie und Organisation

Author: Alejandro Aznar Argelich, Matr. Nr. 03295680

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Prosocial motivation

Alejandro Aznar Argelich



1. Introduction page 3

2. Personal networks

2.1. Definitions page 4

2.2. Relational job design and prosocial motivation page 6

2.3. Prosocial motivation at work page 13

2.4. Intrinsic and prosocial motivation page 14

3. Conclusions page 16

4. References page 22

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The present paper aims at giving a deep insight on prosocial motivation. Adam

M. Grant, an award-winning teacher, researcher, and management professor at Wharton

Business School, has published several articles on prosocial motivation. Grant’s

experience and level of expertise on several fields among business psychology have

made him a very good option when selecting papers about motivation at a business

level. The paper has been mainly based on three of his latest articles, since they provide

a very deep insight on the topic and also present new ideas and future lines of research

on prosocial motivation. These mentioned articles have helped in a significant manner

to the composition of the paper.

Prosocial motivation is a very important resource that significantly contributes to

the improvement of the workers’ performance and productivity. This paper focuses on

three main topics within the context of prosocial motivation: first, the relational

architecture of jobs, defining in several jobs and closely related to personal

relationships; second, the collective orientation of employees, so as to achieve global

visions and goals within the company; and third, the intensifying effect of intrinsic

motivation in employees making a prosocial difference.

In relation to the future, more research should be done to close the remaining

gaps existing in the current literature. Some of the main issues would be the negative

aspects or consequences of prosocial motivation, which can hinder employees’

performance and productivity, a deeper understanding of the varied relational

characteristics of jobs and the way they affect relationships and employee’s actions and

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identities, or prosocial motivation related to social entrepreneurship, CSR, and

sustainability issues such as climate change or oil depletion.

The paper will proceed with the following structure: first, the present

introduction, on which brief comments about the paper and its structure are made;

second, the main part, on which definitions, explanation of the relational job design,

prosocial motivation in the context of work, and the difference between prosocial and

intrinsic motivation will be given; third, the conclusion, on which a general overview

from the whole paper and comments on the limitations and possible future lines of

research will be provided.

Regarding citations, they will be inserted in the paper directly after the thought

they refer to, according to APA-style.


2.1 Definition

Motivation denotes a “desire or reason to act”, and prosocial means “for the

benefit of others or with the intention of helping others” (Oxford English Dictionary,


Prosocial behavior is the behavior that benefits others or has positive social

consequences and it can take many forms, including helping behaviors, cooperation and

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solidarity (Moñivas, 1996).

Prosocial motivation takes place when employees are willing to carry out the

activities related to a determined job with the aim of helping and improving the quality

of life of customers, co-workers and communities (Grant, 2007).

Prosocial motivation can operate as an enabling condition for outcomes that are

often viewed as “positive” for employees, such as meaningful work and strengthened

social bonds, and for organizations, such as effort, persistence, performance, creativity,

citizenship and proactive behavior. It can also serve as a lens for understanding

employees’ quests to create “positive” outcomes for others, providing insight into how

employees experience and pursue the desire to protect and promote the well-being of

coworkers, customers, and communities (Grant and Berg, 2011).

Psychologists have argued that prosocial motivation operates at three

hierarchical levels of generality: global, contextual, and situational (Vallerand, 1997).

Global motivation focuses on an employee’s relatively stable dispositional orientation

toward particular goals and actions across time and situations. Contextual motivation

focuses on an employee’s motivation toward a specific domain or class of behavior, and

is moderately variable across time and situations. Situational motivation focuses on an

employee’s motivation toward a particular behavior in a particular moment in time, and

is highly variable. Thus, at the extremes, global motivation can be viewed as a traitlike

concept, while situational motivation matches prototypes of psychological states

(Chaplin, John, & Goldberg, 1988).

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2.2 Relational job design and prosocial motivation

In this part of the paper, work contexts and their relationship with prosocial

motivation will be analyzed. Also the way jobs spark the motivation of employees to

make a prosocial difference, as well as the way prosocial motivation affects their actions

and decisions. The most important and new fact compared to other existing literature

that Grant (2007) throws light on is the way “relational architecture of jobs shapes the

motivation to make a prosocial difference”.

Employees have in mind making a positive difference in other people’s lives

(Borstein, 2004). This motivation to make a prosocial difference is defining in several

jobs. Some examples of jobs on which prosocial motivation is an important pillar would

be firefighting –they need to risk their life for people almost every day- or inner-city

attorneys –as they get emotionally attached to their clients, they work more and for less

money just to help them.

It is usually important that employees count on altruistic values so as them to be

willing to make a positive difference in others’ lives. But which would be the way

companies have to encourage their employees to follow a prosocial motivation?

According to Hackman and Oldham (1980), this could be the task significance –or the

extent to which employee’s work affects other people health and well-being- that makes

the employees considering their work as meaningful. Also interpersonal relationships

“play key role in enabling employees to experience their work as important and

meaningful (Barry & Crant, 2000).

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Prosocial motivation can be regarded as a relational phenomenon, closely

attached to the concept of interpersonal relationships and its importance at work. In the

literature researched, this has been found to be a popular topic, independently from the

year of publication. Currently, it could be said that this importance is greater since these

relationships- both the external and the internal- are one of the most important aspects

of the service sector, and this sector is the most significant one in the US, and it is

growing very fast in Europe. Employees are increasingly being encouraged to have

good relationships and therefore improve the lives of their co-workers, supervisors,

clients and customers (Grant, 2007).

When analyzing prosocial motivation, it is also crucial to discuss how jobs

cultivate the motivation to make a prosocial difference. A very good model to explain

this is the relational job design (Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Grant, 2007).

The relational job design signifies that “jobs are designed with elaborate

relational architectures that affect employees’ interpersonal interactions and

connections” (Grant, 2007). These relational architectures are important in the

development of relationships with co-workers and customers, and also with regard to

cooperation and collaboration. Relational job design has an influence on the impact of

employees on the beneficiaries –individuals benefited from the work of employees,

such as co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, clients and customers. The two

dimensions on relational job design are job impact and contact with beneficiaries, both

of which will be explained further in this paper.

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Regarding relational architecture of jobs, we can affirm that it “refers to the

structural properties of work that shape employees’ opportunities to connect and interact

with other people” (Grant, 2007). For instance, firefighting jobs or jobs related to the

delivery of emergency medical services have an enriched impact and high frequency of

contact with beneficiaries, completely opposed to janitorial jobs. There can also be

difference within a same job type, such as journalists, who can communicate important

news and have feedback from beneficiaries, and can also be transmitting trivial

information to small audiences and receiving no feedback.

Job impact can be defined as “the degree to which a job provides opportunities

for employees to affect the lives of beneficiaries” (Grant, 2007). Jobs can impact

different dimensions of beneficiaries’ well-being: hedonic well-being –related to health

and safety of other (nurse, police officer…), eudaimonic well-being –promoting the

development of others (coach, teacher…) and material well-being (accountants,


There are four key dimensions regarding potential impact on beneficiaries:

magnitude (e.g. surgeons have enduring impacts since they save lives, not the same

happens with cashiers), scope (e.g. automobile designers affect a lot more people than

speech therapists), frequency (e.g. chefs preparing meals that impact people many times

per day, in front of research chemists) and focus of impact (e.g. lifeguards protecting

swimmers from drowning in front of gasoline station attendants preventing harms of

lower magnitude; special teachers promoting gains of high magnitude, in front of


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The figure 1 explains how work contexts motivate employees to care about

making a positive difference in other people’s lives.

Figure 1. The Job Impact Framework. Source: Grant (2007). Relational job design and

the motivation to make a prosocial difference, Academy of Management Review, page


In relation to contact with beneficiaries, it can be defined as “the degree to

which a job is relationally structured to provide opportunities for employees to interact

and communicate with the people affected by their work” (Grant, 2007). This contact

can range from everyday contact to occasional calls or emails. It is necessary to

highlight here that employees can be carrying out impactful tasks, but this does not

mean that they are having a personal or emotional connection with beneficiaries, or vice

versa. Employees look for meaningful tasks but also meaningful relationships (Kahn,

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Grant (2007) suggests five dimensions of contact with beneficiaries: frequency

of contact (e.g. taxi drivers in front of commercial pilots), duration (e.g. hairstylists

have longer contact with beneficiaries than flight attendants), physical proximity (e.g.

clinical psychologists as opposed to manufacturing employees), depth (social workers

against telephone operators) and breadth of contact (an orchestra musician has contact

with the conductor, audience members and the fellow musicians, while a clerical worker

has a narrow contact with beneficiaries). The greater this dimensions are, the more

meaningful is regarded work by employees.

It would also be important to analyze how the relational job design has an

impact on motivation. For that purpose, it is necessary to refer to perceived impact and

its relation with contact with beneficiaries. Perceived impact is the degree to which

employees know that their actions have an effect on others. It is a way of experiencing

one’s job as affecting welfare of other individuals, which establishes a connection

employee-beneficiary (Grant, 2007). The greater whichever of the previously mentioned

magnitudes of job impact are, the higher is the perceived impact –or objective

opportunity to significantly affect others (e.g. ambulance drivers can save victims’ life,

while cashiers don’t have a strong perceived impact). Usually, the jobs preventing harm

are more meaningful for employees than the jobs focusing on promotion of gains.

Regarding the relation with beneficiaries, it can be argued that it is crucial for

employees to receive feedback on whether they are having an impact or not on

beneficiaries welfare (e.g. production times isolated from costumers lose awareness of

customers’ expectations). Besides, “the greater the frequency, duration, physical

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proximity, depth, and breadth of contact with beneficiaries provided by the job, the

stronger the employee’s perception of impact” (Grant, 2007).

Another important aspect for employees to make a prosocial difference is their

affective commitment to beneficiaries, which “refers to emotional concern for and

dedication to the people and groups of people impacted by one’s work” (Grant, 2007).

As an example, domestic violence counselors care about their clients, and tend to

develop affective commitment to the whole group. This concept is strongly related to

the already analyzed perceived impact, since the personal contact and closeness to

beneficiaries is likely to enable employees to really care about beneficiaries and identify

themselves with them. Therefore, it can be said that the previously mentioned

dimensions of personal contacts and perceived impacted are very related to the affective

commitment –the higher these dimensions, the greater the commitment to beneficiaries.

As far as employees’ reactions to relational job design are concerned, it can be

suggested that they are likely to be influenced by social information, which “shapes the

ways in which the employees evaluate the beliefs, emotions, behaviors, group

memberships, and intrinsic worth of beneficiaries” (Grant, 2007). Beneficiaries are

regarded as important and valuable individuals according to organizational and

occupational ideologies (e.g. Wal-Mart’s ideology of customers having the right to buy

quality products at good prices). This is the case when beneficiaries are kind, amiable

and easy to help in their interactions with employees. These ideologies can, however,

devaluate beneficiaries, when they are regarded by employees as difficult to help, rude

or disrespectful. Consequently, it can be concluded that interactions with beneficiaries

can provide whether positive or negative social information about them.

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It can be further argued that social information moderates the effect of affective

commitment to beneficiaries, mentioned earlier in this section of the paper. When the

employees are exposed to positive social information of the beneficiaries, they are more

committed to help beneficiaries, since this information triggers employees’ prosocial

identities and become connected to the welfare of others. On the other hand, when

employees receive negative social information from beneficiaries, they seek emotional

distance from them (Grant, 2007).

Getting back to the motivation to make a prosocial difference, it is found that the

previously discussed elements are closely related to prosocial motivation. Perceived

impact is likely to increase prosocial motivation, because employees feel capable of

making a prosocial difference on other people’s lives. But there is another dimension

which enhances prosocial motivation even with a higher degree of probability: affective

commitment. Affective commitment to beneficiaries will raise the likelihood for

employees to be motivated in a prosocial manner, since employees personally caring

about beneficiaries are emotionally attached to them and they will therefore be

motivated spend more energy to improve their well-being (Grant, 2007).

Until now, the most important implications of prosocial motivation have been

analyzed. However, it is worth also referring to the consequences that this type of

motivation can have. First, behavioural consequences can be mentioned. Making a

prosocial difference requires more effort, persistence and helping behavior –voluntary

work, spend more time and energy. In second place, identity consequences: the

previously mentioned behavioural consequences can affect employees’ identities, being

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these ones the competence, self-determination and social value of employees –all of

which can be related to impact. “When employees display high levels of effort,

persistence, and helping behavior in the interest of making a prosocial difference, they

are likely to construct identities as competent, self-determined, socially valued

individuals” (Grant, 2007).

2.3 Prosocial motivation at work

In the organizational behavior context, it makes a lot of sense to explain the way

prosocial motivation works within a company, while the employees are performing their

job. In Grant (2008a), several facts on behavioral consequences of prosocial motivation

at work are analyzed, and a lot of questions are left open so as them to be solved by

future research. In this section of the paper, several facts and implications will be

explained so as to further the understanding on how prosocial motivation at work can

change and how these changes can be sustained in the long term.

According to Grant and Berg (2011), “employees are more likely to experience

prosocial motivation when organizations maintain collectivistic rather than

individualistic norms and rewards”. If collective goals are established, there is a higher

probability that employees are willing to contribute to common goals and also feel

concerned about other people’s welfare –whether co-workers or customers.

In shaping prosocial motivation, transformational leadership can also play an

important role, given that they are able to link employees’ work to organizational goals

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and values, which can lead employees to “prioritize the interests of the organization

over and above their own self-interests” (Bass, 1999). This can be achieved, thanks to

the fact that transformational leaders are regarded as role models and prove support to

their employees. Nevertheless, “the effects of transformational leadership may vary as a

function of the type of charismatic relationship that employees have with their leaders”

(Grant and Berg, 2011).

Another important fact, already mentioned in the previous section, would be the

individual differences among employees. There are two different classifications of

individuals according to Grant and Berg (2011). The first one refers to the level of

familiar or universalism values: the individuals with stronger familiar values will be

“sensitive to contact and relationships with beneficiaries”, whereas the concern on the

ones with high universal values will not depend that much on contact but will be rather

broad and more sustainable. The second distinction mentions agreeable individuals –

whose prosocial motivation will be more focused toward individuals- and conscientious

employees –who will direct their prosocial motivation to being responsible and

complying with rules; less personal.

2.4 Intrinsic and prosocial motivation

Authors usually have trouble on differentiating between intrinsic and prosocial

motivation. The article of Grant (2008a) provides a deep insight on the matter defining

both concepts in-depth and referring to different dimensions that affect them and can

serve as a basis to achieve a clear distinction. According to Grant (2008a), intrinsic

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motivation is driven by pleasure, interest and enjoyment, whereas prosocial motivation

is driven by meaning and purpose, with the aim of helping others. There are three

dimensions on which this difference is based: self-regulation (autonomous vs.

introjected/identified), goal directedness (process vs. outcome), and temporal focus

(present vs. future).

Individuals who are intrinsically motivated are naturally drawn to do their job,

they are autonomous, process-based and focused in the present, since their only aim is

pure enjoyment; however, prosocially motivated people are more based on conscious

self-regulation and self-control, they are outcome based –they want to achieve a goal,

which is other people welfare- and are evidently focused in the future. For instance, the

case of “a university professor presenting a lecture to students. When intrinsically

motivated, the teacher’s effort is based on enjoyment of the task of lecturing, which

provides joy and pleasure in the process of performing. When prosocially motivated, the

teacher’s effort is based on a desire to educate students, which provides meaning and

fulfillment in the outcome of student learning” (Grant, 2008a).

In his article, Grant (2008a) proved the hypothesis that intrinsic motivation

moderates the relationship between prosocial motivation and persistence, performance,

and productivity, the dimensions explained in the previous section of the paper. He was

able to demonstrate, by a study on which he observed firefighters and fundraising

callers while working, that “the higher the intrinsic motivation, the stronger the positive

association between prosocial motivation and persistence, performance, and

productivity”. In both contexts, prosocial motivation was a psychologically meaningful


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Prosocial motivation appears as a crucial element to improve employees’ work

performance and productivity. It goes without saying that the analysis of the different

implications and consequences of prosocial motivation is useful for managers in order

to better design jobs, to re-define the business with a more ethical and environmentally

sustainable view, to improve the relationships within the company and from the

company to the outside world, to know the best way to create a collective identity

towards a common organizational goal, and it is also a good indicator to know whether

to select and train certain individuals instead of others.

As a conclusion for the section of relational architecture of jobs, it can be said

that “jobs have important relational architectures that can motivate employees to care

about improving the welfare of other people. This article thus enriches our

understanding of how making a difference makes a difference for employees and their

organizations” (Grant, 2007).

When employees have opportunities to affect beneficiaries, they are aware of

their impact on beneficiaries, they are affectively attached to them, and, consequently,

they are more likely to develop a prosocial motivation. Then it can be concluded that

“relationships are shaped by the motivation to make a prosocial difference” (Grant,


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Regarding job impact, it can be said that impactful jobs provide meaningful

opportunities for impact on and relationships with beneficiaries, both affecting

beneficiaries’ lives and creating connections with these beneficiaries. The article of

Grant (2007) provides deeper insight on how this is made in comparison to previous


The previous literature also brought up the questions of whether employees

cared about other people and which kind of employees were the ones caring about

others. Grant (2007), however, proposed the question of when and under what

conditions employees cared about other individuals, concluding that well-designed jobs

were the key to trigger prosocial motivation, and considering altruistic-egoistic motives

as complementary to this triggering. It can be argued that the article furthers the

understanding of the way to achieve this type of motivation in organizations, making

employees to care about and cooperate with others.

It would be also worth adding that jobs with enriched relational job architectures

can usually satisfy both the employees’ needs of differentiation –achieved through

competence and self-determination, making distinct contributions to other people’s

lives- and integration –achieved through “feeling valued and connected to the

beneficiaries of these contributions” (Grant, 2007).

Regarding the future, researchers should be able to measure the relational

architecture of jobs. This would provide them with a deeper understanding of the varied

relational characteristics of jobs, and the mechanisms through which they affect the

actions, relationships, experiences and identities of employees (Grant, 2007). It would

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be also useful to look for the sources of relational job design: not only managers’ goals

and organizational structures, but also the way employees play a role on shaping these

structures, and the way employees craft their jobs, enabling them to become aware of

their impact and redefine work including new activities so as to make a prosocial

difference on beneficiaries.

Adverse work conditions and individual differences that can hinder the

development of a prosocial motivation (Frey and Meier, 2003), and the effect that these

adverse conditions or differences can have on relational job design should be also an

issue of attention for future researchers. Answering the questions of why employees

decide to favour beneficiaries with similar backgrounds and experiences and however

they discriminate against dissimilar ones or how to moderate the effect of individual

differences on employees’ reactions to different types of beneficiaries would have an

enormous effect on understanding prosocial motivation.

It would also be worth widening the amount of existing literature about jobs with

enriched relational job architectures and their influence on satisfaction of employees’

needs of differentiation and integration.

In relation to limitations of the article of Grant (2007) and the rest of the existing

literature about relational architecture of jobs, it can be suggested that little research has

been done on job design examining the relational structures of jobs, and therefore

several of the hypotheses presented in his article should be more extensively researched.

There is also a need for a deeper understanding of how work contexts cultivate the

motivation to make a prosocial difference, and articles that include jobs’ interpersonal

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relationships in theories of motivation.

There are also limitations regarding job redesign, which can have weak effects

or negative consequences, because it enriches tasks rather than enriching relational

architecture of jobs. Relationships are more flexible and easy to intervene, which

reduces the time and effort that the managers need to increase employees’ contact with

beneficiaries (Grant, 2007).

In relation to motivation at work, it can be concluded that collectivistic goals and

aims, and individual differences have an important influence on prosocial motivation. It

can be added that, in spite of the not very significant amount of literature referred to the

topic, transformational leaders can also have an undeniable effect in the process of

triggering prosocial motivation.

As far as prosocial motivation at work is concerned, there are several questions

that are yet to be answered by future research. One of the most important and less

attention-grabbing aspects of prosocial motivation to researchers until the present time

are the drawbacks of prosocial motivation. Grant and Berg (2011) consider prosocial

motivation as a double-edged sword, since it can trigger not very ethical and even

harmful attitudes, such as managers exploiting prosocially motivated employees by

making them working overtime or underpaying them, employees being excessively

loyal to beneficiaries and therefore violating justice and ethics or breaking rules…

Some other possible future lines of research on the topic within the context of

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work could be the exploration of the development and impact of collective prosocial

motivation, proving if effects of prosocial motivation are greater or not among groups of

workers, or if the existence shared identities, goals, and missions enhance prosocial

motivation; the way organizations start, keep, and hinder prosocial motivation; and

prosocial motivation related to social entrepreneurship, CSR, and sustainability issues,

studying the role of prosocial motivation in solving problems of social and societal

importance, asking questions such as “how does prosocial motivation influence

individual and organizational actions toward the environment?” or if firms run by

prosocially motivated executives engage in more corporate social responsibility and

environmental activities (Grant and Berg, 2011).

In relation to intrinsic and prosocial motivation, it can be concluded that there is

a synergy between prosocial and intrinsic motivations, and this synergy is more likely to

enhance persistence, performance, and productivity, in comparison to each type of

motivation in a separate way. This fact will be of great usefulness for managers, who

could take into account this synergy in their selection and socialization practices, with

the objective of increasing effectiveness outcomes. Thanks to these results, managers

could also consider measuring the prosocial and intrinsic motivational orientations “to

hire employees who display dispositional tendencies to experience high levels of both

motivations” (Grant, 2008a).

Regarding future research about prosocial related to intrinsic motivation, it

would be useful to investigate which are the psychological mechanisms that mediate

between prosocial and intrinsic motivations and the implications of persistence,

performance, and productivity. Also conscientiousness, perceived job characteristics and

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positive affect, so as to know which are the relative contributions of intrinsic and

prosocial to these effects. It would be also important to prove the hypothesis that

multiple motivations cannot coexist in the same period of time.

It can finally be said that more research should be done on prosocial motivation

at work, in spite of the article of Grant and Berg (2011), since it is rather a unique study

on this topic. The idea would be to learn more on both positive sides and drawbacks of

prosocial motivation at work, possible illusions of capabilities or achievements, and the

sustainability of the mentioned prosocial motivation in the long term. It would be also

helpful to gain more insight on intrinsic motivation and its relationship with prosocial

motivation, so as to perfectly define the differences between both of them and their

defining components and characteristics. The article of Grant (2008a) needs to be taken

as the first step towards more investigation on the understanding of the previously

mentioned topic.

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