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It seems that both 자극 and 동기 부여 can be translations for "motivation".

How do these words differ and what are example usages?

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'자극' and '동기부여' have similar meaning and their usage can overlap in certain context. However, in some context, they can't be used interchangeably.

자극:

어떠한 작용을 주어 감각이나 마음에 반응이 일어나게 함. 또는 그런 작용을 하는 사물.

동기부여:

<교육> 학습자의 학습 의욕을 불러일으키는 일. <심리> 자극을 주어 생활체로 하여금 행동을 하게 만드는 일.

'자극' is close to 'stimulus' as in sensory / verbal / visual / sexual stimuli (감각적, 말을 통한, 시각적, 성적 자극)

It is something that makes you feel, see and hear (smell, etc.) something and arouse reaction in your body. It also can be used metaphorically, for example:

경제를 자극하다. To stimulate economy.

You can't use '동기부여' in the above context.

'동기부여' is close to 'motivation':

동기 부여(動機附與) 또는 모티베이션(영어: motivation)은 어떤 목표를 지향하여 생각하고 행동하도록 하는 일이다.

They can be used interchangeably sometimes, for example:

그에게 새 핸드폰을 사주는 것은 그가 공부를 열심히하는데 큰 자극이 / 동기부여가 될 것이다.

can be literally translated to

Buying him a new mobile phone will be big stimulus / motivation for him to study harder.

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  • To paraphrase, 동기 부여 is something that a person creates/attains within themselves, while 자극 is a stimulus you get from outside? – 파울울 Jul 1 '16 at 23:08
  • @파울울 I don't think that's a very good idea to tell the difference. No. – user7 Jul 2 '16 at 4:03
  • Then, can you find an example where you can use 동기부여, but not 자극? – 파울울 Jul 2 '16 at 8:18
  • @파울울 It's not easy to answer. 직원들에게 동기부여를 해서 생산성을 향상시킨다. In this case, 동기부여 is far more appropriate. – user7 Jul 2 '16 at 13:57
  • 그에게 새 핸드폰을 사주는 것은 그가 공부를 열심히하는데 큰 자극이 / 동기부여가 될 것이다. should be 그에게 새 핸드폰을 ‘사 주는’ 것은 그가 공부를 ‘열심히 하는 데에’ 큰 자극이 / 동기 부여가 될 것이다.. – Константин Ван Mar 19 '18 at 8:33
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‘동기 부여’ is not a single word; just give the OP the literal meanings of each words it has!

The best way to figure out subtle difference between words is to know their etymologies.

I give you very literal meanings of them here.


‘계기 (契機)’ [계ː기] or [게ː기]

(맺을 ‘계’): to settle. (틀 ‘기’): cause, reason, mechanism.

어떤 일이 일어나거나 변화하도록 만드는 결정적인 원인이나 기회.

A decisive reason or opportunity that makes something happen or change.

‘동기 (動機)’ [동ː기]

(움직일 ‘동’): to move. (틀 ‘기’): cause, reason, mechanism.

(누구로 하여금) 어떤 일이나 행동을 일으키게 하는 계기.

A 계기 that makes (someone) make an event or action happen.

A decisive reason or opportunity that makes (someone) make an event or action happen.

A decisive motive (of someone).

‘부여 (附與)’ [부ː여]

(붙일 ‘부’): to attach. (줄 ‘여’): to give, help, allow.

사람에게 권리ㆍ명예ㆍ임무 따위를 지니도록 해 주거나, 사물이나 일에 가치ㆍ의의 따위를 붙여 .

Giving someone a permission, honor, or duty; giving something a value or significance, et cetera.

‘동기 부여’

So ‘동기 부여’ means ‘giving someone a decisive motive’; or briefly, ‘motivation’. Actually ‘부여’ is just a mere Sino-Korean word for nominalizing ‘주다 (to give)’.


‘자극 (刺戟)’ [자ː극]

(찌를 ‘자’): to stab. (창 ‘극’): spear.

어떠한 작용을 주어 감각이나 마음에 반응이 일어나게 함. 또는 그런 작용을 하는 사물.

Provoking a reaction of senses or mind by making them affected by something.

‘자극’, however, is rather a metaphor for ‘motivation’. As you can see, its Han characters literally mean ‘to stab with a spear’. In Korean, it means ‘having an effect on something or someone’. In the context of the effect being a motive, it would mean ‘motivation’. In the other contexts, it would mean different things. It has a similar meaning with ‘interaction’ but is unidirectional; well, how about ‘to act’ or ‘to trigger’?


  • Both can be done by oneself's mind, or by something or someone else.
  • While ‘동기 부여’ literally means ‘motivation’, ‘자극’ is slightly metaphorical.
  • ‘자극’ may be used even in other contexts than ‘motivation’.

I hope you could get it. Feel free to ask further questions.


Edit: the cases where using ‘동기 부여’ is more appropriate than using ‘자극’.

Well, the thing is, in the context of ‘motivation’, ‘동기 부여’ is more specific than ‘자극’. If you're to use ‘자극’ in your sentences for meaning ‘motivation’, you have to make it obvious in order for it to be easily interpreted as ‘motivation’. Otherwise, it would be unnatural, or ambiguous.

사람들에게 동기를 주면(부여하면) 일을 수월하게 할 수 있겠지.

We could make things smooth by motivating the people.

사람들을 자극하면 일을 수월하게 할 수 있겠지.

We could make things smooth by 자극-ing people.

We could make things smooth by inspiring the people. (You might want this one.)

We could make things smooth by goading the people. (But the effect may be negative.)

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Some 자극 could be 동기 부여, but not all 자극 are. 자극하다 means affecting something for a reaction, while 동기 부여 means giving 자극 to something in order to making it want to do something.

자극 is closer to mere stimulation than a motivation.

이 곡은 사람의 감정을 자극하는 음악이다.
대자연의 아름다움이 시인의 상상력을 자극했다.

선생님의 칭찬이 동기 부여가 되어 나는 더욱 열심히 공부하였다.
성과나 업적에 따라 보상을 해 주면 일을 하는 사람에게는 동기 부여의 효과가 커진다.

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  • Hello user 300375. Welcome to Korean Language Stack Exchange. Please note that Stack Exchange seeks to build a library of definitive answers. Please include full explanations behind the response, including suitable examples and references. I encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for a better understanding of our standards and guidelines, and then edit this answer to expand it. – user7 Jul 1 '16 at 11:37
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I will add some

자극 - stimulus : (1) From external force, we obtain psychological pressure :

내 동생의 태도는 나에게 자극이 된다 My sister's attitude is a stimulus to me

(2) Organ of living things :

좋은 음악은 아드레날린 분비를 촉진 시키는 자극이다 Good music is a stimulus to generates adrenaline

동기부여 - stimulus and behavior to a group, a person or an animal :

내 동생의 태도는 내가 공부하도록 동기 부여가 되었다 My sister's attitude is a motivation of my studying.

동기 - reason of behavior or result

기자는 나에게 이 작품을 쓰게 된 동기를 물었다 Reporter ask me a reason of my writing this work.

동생의 태도는 내가 서울대에 가도록 결심한 동기이다 My sister's attitude is a motivation of decision to go to Seoul Univ.

계기 - reason or chance of happening or changing

이번 계기는 우리에게 주어진 마지막 기회이다 This time is a last chance given to us

그녀는 시험에 떨어졌다. 이번 계기로 집에서 놀기로 결심했다 She failed at an examination. She decided to be home through this.

그녀는 머리를 다쳤다. 그 계기로 건망증이 생겼다. She hurts head so that she foget sometimes.

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