Popular Culture and Psychology: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations in 'Mulan' and 'Legally Blonde'

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Movies are one of the many forms of popular culture. Even though popular culture comes with various definitions, it is a culture that is favored by the mass media. Moreover, psychology can be a component of popular culture. A psychological concept that can be in movies is intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The textbook, Human Development for Nursing, by Reilly (2020), defined intrinsic and extrinsic motivations as follows: “Intrinsic motivation is based on internal factors such as organismic needs (competence, relatedness, and autonomy), as well as curiosity, challenge, and fun. Extrinsic motivation involves external incentives such as rewards and punishers” (p.91). Therefore, people who have intrinsic motivations, like the ones explored in a curiosity essay, are motivated because they enjoy what they do, and personalities who are motivated extrinsically engage in a behavior to receive a reward or are avoiding punishment. The movie, Mulan, produced by Pam Coats, and the film, Legally Blonde, produced by Marc Platt and Ric Kidney, accurately displayed both extrinsic and intrinsic motives in the main characters, Mulan and Elle Woods.

Mulan and Elle Woods began by showing extrinsic behaviors. The movie, Mulan, Produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation was about a woman named Mulan, who joins the Chinese military due to the fear that her distressed father will be drafted into the military. Mulan impersonates her father who is unqualified to serve because she is a woman. In the military, she trains with other recruits and is accompanied by Mushu, the family’s guardian dragon. Though caught by the emperor's successor for being a woman, she continues to save China by using her intelligence to fight off the Hun’s invasion. By doing this, she falls in love with the General, Shang. At the beginning of the movie, Mulan feels pressured to conform to society’s standards and has a difficult experience being as elegant and womanly as others expect her to be. As demonstrated in Hugheser27’s (2012) video, to avoid punishment, she is extrinsically motivated to conform herself to become a lady to bring “honor” to her family rather than for herself. Mulan wants to receive the award of acceptance by her family so she takes a step further and cheats by writing on her arm because she is terrified of “dishonoring” her family. In my opinion, this precisely portrays extrinsic motives because the protagonist is motivated by external factors. Therefore, Mulan is only conforming to society so she can avoid being punished by society and receive the award approval from her family. I would not recommend solely being extrinsically motivated because as Reilly (2020) discovered, “many psychologists believe that intrinsic motivations lead to more positive outcomes than extrinsic motivations” (p.91). This seemed to be true in Mulan because not only did she fail her test, but dishonored her family due to the wrong motive. Another example of extrinsic behavior is in the film, Legally Blonde, produced by Marc Platt and Ric Kidney. This film tells a story about a popular girl named Elle Woods. She is president of her sorority and her favorite color is pink. She has a boyfriend named Warner. In hopes of Warner asking her to marry him, he breaks up with her because she is not “serious” enough for his future career and is “too blonde.” Elle is heartbroken and is determined to win Warner back by going to Harvard Law College. Elle begins the movie by being determined on winning her boyfriend back by attending Harvard Law School. However, as shown in Movieclips’ (2015) video, Elle gets kicked out on the first day of school because she was unprepared for the lecture. This accurately shows a good example of extrinsic behavior because Elle honed her focus on winning back her boyfriend and she was not prepared for class. She was only motivated by the reward of getting a ring from Warner. As a result, Elle did lose sight of the reality of what is expected of Law school.

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Towards the middle to the end of the film, the protagonists started to show intrinsic motives. In the movie, Mulan, Mulan’s extrinsic motive turned into an intrinsic behavior. In xFliiy’s (2006) video, as Mulan impersonates her father in the army, she becomes determined within herself to become successful. Even though she struggles to fit in as a male, she is determined to improve herself without cheating like she did when trying to conform to society. At the end of the video, Mulan is placed on top of the pole at night while nobody was watching, solidifying her place in the military. This is a perfect example of an intrinsic motive because Mulan was determined to be a good soldier. Furthermore, Reilly (2020) mentioned that “many successful individuals are both intrinsically motivated (they have high personal standards of achievement and emphasize personal effort) and extrinsically motivated (they are strongly competitive)” (p.91). This is significant because Mulan finds a healthy balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations by being strong-minded to make improvements to become a better soldier and elated when she received praise from her peers. Additionally, in the film, Legally Blonde, Elle displays intrinsic motives. In Movieclips’ (2015) video, Elle becomes determined to improve her skills in Law. To everyone’s surprise, Elle becomes one of the best in her class and impresses her teacher. She even goes as far as getting an intern spot at his firm.

Elle makes the cut and is soon assisting the defense in an intense murder trial. Even though she ends up defending the client by herself, she cleverly wins the case and earns respect from her peers. In my opinion, this is a good example of intrinsic motives because Elle was determined to become a good lawyer and to win her case on her own. Along the way, she enjoyed the challenge and in return, received praise from her client and the media.

In conclusion, psychological concepts like extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are in popular culture. It has been scientifically proven that having a healthy balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motives is more successful as was shown in the films Mulan and Legally Blonde.

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Popular Culture and Psychology: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations in ‘Mulan’ and ‘Legally Blonde’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/popular-culture-and-psychology-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivations-in-mulan-and-legally-blonde/
“Popular Culture and Psychology: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations in ‘Mulan’ and ‘Legally Blonde’.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/popular-culture-and-psychology-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivations-in-mulan-and-legally-blonde/
Popular Culture and Psychology: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations in ‘Mulan’ and ‘Legally Blonde’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/popular-culture-and-psychology-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivations-in-mulan-and-legally-blonde/> [Accessed 19 Jul. 2024].
Popular Culture and Psychology: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations in ‘Mulan’ and ‘Legally Blonde’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Jul 19]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/popular-culture-and-psychology-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivations-in-mulan-and-legally-blonde/
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