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The true effects of extrinsic reinforcement on "intrinsic" motivation

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THE TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC
REINFORCEMENT ON “INTRINSIC”
MOTIVATION
ANGELEQUE AKIN-LITTLE AND STEVEN G. LITTLE
The use of rewards and/or reinforcement is common in schools. Teach-
ers frequently use some sort of reward system for academic output and/or
appropriate behavior (e.g., stickers given for completed classwork, pizza cou-
pons given for reading books, tokens given for appropriate classroom behav-
ior), and decades of empirical research support the efficacy of reinforcement-
based procedures in the classroom (e.g., Ayllon & Azrin, 1968; Barrish,
Saunders, & Wolf, 1969; Birnbrauer, Wolf, Kidder, & Tague, 1965; Brondolo,
Baruch, Conway, & Marsh, 1994; Buisson, Murdock, Reynolds, & Cronin,
1995; Cavalier, Ferretti, & Hodges, 1997; Mann-Feder & Varda, 1996;
O’Leary & Drabman, 1971; Swiezy, Matson, & Box, 1992).
However, there has also been concern on the part of some educators
and psychologists over the use of reward contingency systems in classrooms
(Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999a, 1999b, 2001; Kohn, 1993, 1996). The per-
ceived problem is the belief that extrinsic reinforcers may have a detrimental
effect on a student’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task once the rein-
forcer for that task is withdrawn. These writers posit that if reinforcement is
utilized, an individual’s perceptions of competence and self-determination
74 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
will lessen, thereby decreasing, possibly forever, that individuals intrinsic
motivation to perform the task. Teachers and teacher education students are
frequently told that the use of extrinsic reinforcement kills creativity (Tegano,
Moran, & Sawyers, 1991). Further, many teacher education programs em-
phasize intuition and insight in order to facilitate learning. In the resulting
teaching practices (e.g., discovery learning, constructivism), the teacher does
not impart knowledge; rather the focus is on teacher arrangement of the
environment in order to help students discover knowledge in the absence
of external reinforcement. This pedagological instruction is in direct con-
flict with the available data that supports the use of external reinforcers in
the classroom and the efficacy of direct instruction (Alberto & Troutman,
2006).
In 1994, Cameron and Pierce conducted a meta-analysis on the effect
of external reinforcement on intrinsic motivation, and it generated intense
debate on this topic (Cameron & Pierce, 1996; Kohn, 1996; Lepper, 1998;
Lepper, Keavney, & Drake, 1996; Ryan & Deci, 1996). Subsequently, two
additional meta-analytic studies were conducted (Cameron, Banko, & Pierce,
2001; Deci et al., 1999a) with results being contradictory. Cameron and Pierce
(1994) and Cameron et al. (2001) found no detrimental effect or detrimen-
tal effects only under certain proscribed conditions, whereas Deci et al. (1999a)
found negative effect. Further, others have attempted to provide illumina-
tion for contradictory findings by examining findings of the detrimental ef-
fect from a more behavioral, scientific perspective (Akin-Little, Eckert, Lovett,
& Little, 2004; Akin-Little & Little, 2004; Carton, 1996; Dickinson, 1989;
Flora, 1990; Mintz, 2003). This chapter aims to synthesize research in the
areas of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to give readers a background from
which they can effectively work with teachers and parents to implement
behavioral interventions. Although this chapter has more of a research focus
than other chapters in the book, we feel it is important for practitioners to
have a conceptual foundation in this area.
DEFINITIONS OF INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION
Deci and Ryan (1985) defined an intrinsically motivated behavior as
one for which there exists no recognizable reward except the activity itself
(e.g., reading). That is, behavior that cannot be attributed to external con-
trols is usually attributed to intrinsic motivation. However, according to Flora
(1990), no behavior occurs without an identifying external circumstance:
A complete scientific explanation of behavior does not require reference
to constructs which are, in principle, unobservable . . . . A complete
scientific account for any behavior of any organism may be obtained
with a complete description of the functional interdependency of the
behavior-environment interaction. (p. 323)
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 75
Many behavioral researchers (e.g., Dickinson, 1989) have criticized contin-
ued attempts to identify the construct of intrinsic motivation, suggesting
that such efforts impede the goal of the scientific study of behavior. Creating
internal constructs, which depend on inferences in their explanations, may
obstruct the discovery of the true function of behavior through more scien-
tific, measurable, and observable means.
In general, if the dichotomy between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
is accepted, intrinsic motivation is assumed to be of greater value (Fair &
Silvestri, 1992). This belief is due in large part to the Western conceptual-
ization of the human as autonomous and individualistic. In this view, hu-
mans are driven toward self-actualization and any occurrence that impinges
on self-determination causes dissonance. Further, the use of extrinsic rein-
forcement is seen as controlling and/or limiting self-discovery, creativity,
and the capacity for humans to reach fulfillment (Eisenberger, Pierce, &
Cameron, 1999). It is interesting that when this tenet is examined in rela-
tionship to the use of punishment, punishment is perceived as less of a threat
to autonomy because humans may choose how to behave in order to avoid
punishment (Maag, 1996).
It is not surprising that a debate has resulted surrounding the intrin-
sic/extrinsic distinction. Several critics (e.g., Guzzo, 1979; Scott, 1975)
have produced data that illuminate the problems associated with identify-
ing intrinsically motivated behaviors. Other theories have been proposed
that purport to explain behavior that appears to occur in the absence of
any extrinsic motivation. However, these behaviors may, in fact, be due to
anticipated future benefits (Bandura, 1977) or intermittent reinforcement
(Dickinson, 1989). Zimmerman (1985) stated that cognitive definitions of
intrinsic motivation are definitions by default (p. 118). That is, behavior
that cannot be attributed to external controls is usually attributed to intrin-
sic motivation.
According to Deci and Ryans (1985) definition, intrinsic motivation
is evidenced when people participate in an activity because of the internal
enjoyment of the activity and not because of any perceived extrinsic reward.
Intrinsic motivation enables people to feel competent and self-determining.
Intrinsically motivated behavior is said to result in creativity, flexibility, and
spontaneity. In contrast, extrinsically motivated actions are characterized by
pressure and tension and are believed to result in low self-esteem and anxi-
ety. Distinctions between extrinsic and intrinsic consequences from a more
behavioral perspective can be found in writings by Horcones (1987) and
Mawhinney, Dickinson, and Taylor (1989). Horcones stated that intrinsic
consequences occur in the absence of programming by others. They are natu-
ral and automatic responses inevitably produced by the structural character-
istics of the physical environment in which humans exist. Extrinsic conse-
quences, conversely, are those that occur in addition to any intrinsic
consequences and are most often programmed by others (i.e., the social envi-
76 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
ronment, researchers, teacher, applied behavior analysts). On the basis of
this differentiation, Mawhinney et al. (1989) subsequently defined intrinsic
and extrinsic motivation in the following manner: Intrinsically controlled
behavior consists of behavior controlled by unprogrammed consequences
while extrinsically controlled behavior consists of behavior controlled by
programmed consequences (p. 111).
THEORIES AND INVESTIGATIONS OF
REINFORCER/REWARD EFFECTS
Theories and investigations of reinforcer/reward effects have generally
fallen into two general categories: cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive theo-
ries include cognitive evaluation theory and the overjustification hypoth-
esis. Behavioral investigations have generally tried to explain the same phe-
nomena via various aspects of behavioral theory (e.g., behavioral contrast,
discriminative stimuli, etc.).
Cognitive Evaluation Theory
Deci and Ryans (1985) cognitive evaluation theory is based on the
assumption that self-determination and competence are innate human needs.
Cognitive evaluation theory states that events facilitate or hinder feelings of
competence and self-determination depending on their perceived informa-
tional, controlling, or amotivational significance. Deci and Ryan divided re-
wards into two categories: task-contingent rewards and quality-dependent
rewards. Task-contingent rewards are given for participation in an activity,
solving a problem, or completing a task. Quality-dependent rewards involve
the quality of ones performance relative to some normative information or
standard (Deci & Ryan, 1985, p. 74). Task-contingent rewards are hypoth-
esized to detrimentally affect intrinsic motivation by decreasing self-deter-
mination (i.e., reward is viewed as a controlling event attempting to deter-
mine behavior thereby decreasing self-determination and, consequently,
intrinsic motivation). Quality-dependent rewards are also believed to act to
decrease intrinsic motivation by reducing ones feelings of self-determina-
tion. However, quality-dependent rewards also serve to increase feelings of
competence, according to Deci and Ryan (i.e., reward is viewed as an infor-
mational event indicating skill at a certain task, leading to an increase in
feelings of competence, which serves to increase intrinsic motivation). There-
fore, it is never clear whether the decremental effect to self-determination or
the incremental effect to competence will be stronger when examining qual-
ity-dependent rewards. Thus, for Deci and Ryan, quality-dependent rewards
may not decrease intrinsic motivation. The detrimental effect of greatest
concern then is in circumstances involving task-completion rewards.
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 77
Eisenberger and Cameron (1996) further divided task-completion rewards
into the subcategories of performance-independent rewards that individuals
receive simply for participation in an activity and completion-independent
rewards given when an individual has finished a task or activity. Cognitive
evaluation theory would suggest that an individuals intrinsic motivation
would be most detrimentally affected upon reception of tangible, anticipated
rewards. Additionally, according to this theory, verbal rewards may be infor-
mational and therefore increase intrinsic motivation. Events may also be per-
ceived as amotivational, indicating an individuals lack of skill that reduces his
or her cognitions of competence and, subsequently, intrinsic motivation.
In 1988, Rummel and Feinberg conducted a meta-analysis assessing
cognitive evaluation theory. They concluded that controlling, extrinsic re-
wards do have a damaging effect on intrinsic motivation, providing support
for the theory. Basic problems with cognitive evaluation theory, however,
were also identified. First, faulty reasoning was used because rewards were
identified as either controlling, informational, or amotivational after the
performance had been measured. Second, feelings of competence and self-
determination, central to the theory as agents for change in intrinsic motiva-
tion, are not measurable. The assumption is made that changes are occurring
because changes in behavior are observed. The constructs of self-determina-
tion, competence, and even intrinsic motivation are inferred from the very
behavior they supposedly cause (Cameron & Pierce, 1994). The theory con-
tains no explanation for why the disquiet associated with a decrease in self-
determination would reduce intrinsic motivation. As Eisenberger and
Cameron (1996) wrote, based on the theorys premise, one could alterna-
tively argue that reduced self-determination would, for example, reduce pref-
erence for the reward or instigate anger at the person delivering the reward
(p. 1156).
Results of a meta-analysis performed by Cameron and Pierce (1994)
partly serve to refute cognitive evaluation theory. Deci and Ryan (1985)
stressed the importance of measurements of attitude because they theorized
that interest, enjoyment, and satisfaction are central emotions to intrinsic
motivation. How a person feels about an activity is reflected behaviorally as
time spent on task. The results of the Cameron and Pierce meta-analysis,
however, suggest that reward (and subsequent withdrawal) tends not to af-
fect attitude. They further found that attitude seems to be affected positively
when verbal rewards are used, and when rewards are contingent on a precise
level of achievement.
Other researchers (Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Eisenberger & Cameron,
1996; Eisenberger et al., 1999) have suggested that cognitive evaluation theory
is not a useful or viable theory and that any decrements in behavior are bet-
ter explained through learned helplessness or general interest theory. In
learned helplessness, the decrement in intrinsic motivation is said to be due
to the single reward delivery paradigm used by most studies in this area. Gen-
78 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
eral interest theory suggests that intrinsic motivation is driven by more than
just self-determination and competence needs. Eisenberger et al. (1999) pro-
posed that rewards must be examined for both content and context of tasks.
Rewards that communicate task performance can satisfy needs, wants, and
desires, which can increase intrinsic motivation, whereas rewards that con-
vey that the task is extraneous to needs, wants, and desires may serve to
decrease intrinsic motivation. The symbolic function of rewards is then what
is important along with personality and cultural influences.
Overjustification Hypothesis
Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973), divided preschool children into
three groups: expected reward, unexpected reward, and no reward. Children
in the first group were promised and received a good-player award contin-
gent upon their drawing with magic markers. Children in the second group
received an award but were not promised it beforehand, and children in the
third group did not expect or receive an award. In subsequent free-play ses-
sions, children from the expected-reward group were observed to spend less
time drawing than the other two groups.
In an attempt to explain their results, Lepper et al. (1973) offered the
overjustification hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, if a person is al-
ready performing an activity and receiving no extrinsic reward for that per-
formance, introduction of an extrinsic reward will decrease intrinsic interest
or motivation. This occurs because the persons performance is now
overjustified, resulting in the persons perception that his or her level of in-
trinsic motivation to perform the activity is less than it was initially. Accord-
ing to this theory, the person subsequently performs the activity less once the
reinforcement is removed (Lepper, 1983; Williams, 1980).
Lepper et al.s (1973) results have been replicated (e.g., Deci & Ryan,
1985; Greene & Lepper, 1974; Morgan, 1984); however, research with more
school-like tasks and older students suggested that an undermining effect of
reward does not occur if the students are told they have achieved a preset
standard and the task is at a challenging level for them (Pittman, Boggiano,
& Ruble, 1983). The use of rewards has actually been shown to increase
intrinsic motivation by studies in which rewards were administered contin-
gent upon performance (e.g., Lepper, 1983), rewards provided information
about the students competence (e.g., Lepper & Gilovich, 1981; Rosenfield,
Folger, & Adelman, 1980), and rewards were given to students not optimally
motivated toward desirable educational goals (Morgan, 1984). Moreover,
researchers have consistently found that verbal rewards tend to increase in-
trinsic motivation, whereas tangible rewards may decrease intrinsic motiva-
tion (Cameron & Pierce, 1994). Additionally, reductions of intrinsic moti-
vation have not been found with traditionally behavioral studies utilizing a
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 79
single-subject, repeated-measures design (Akin-Little & Little, 2004;
Cameron & Pierce, 1994; McGinnis, 1996; Mintz, 2003).
Behavioral Investigations
Flora (1990) wrote that psychology is supposedly the study of indi-
vidual behavior, not the study of groups means (p. 338). This statement
succinctly illustrates the importance of within-subject designs in behavioral
research. Behaviorally oriented researchers assert that cognitive researchers
studying the effects of extrinsic reward using between-groups designs have
used measurement phases that are too short to detect temporal trends or
transition states (Cameron & Pierce, 1994). Within-subject designs, how-
ever, measure behavior over a number of sessions, thereby alleviating this
shortcoming. Unlike between-groups paradigms, the within-subject design
takes measurements of time on task over a number of sessions for each phase.
After baseline (B) data are collected, reinforcement is introduced and mea-
surements are again repeatedly taken. Finally, reinforcement is withdrawn
(i.e., Baseline II [B II]), and measurements of time on task are taken again.
Time on task is taken as a measurement of intrinsic motivation and the dif-
ference in time on task between pre- and postreinforcement (i.e., B I and B
II) is cataloged as intrinsic motivation in which differences are attributed to
external reinforcement. Behavioral investigations have also traditionally in-
cluded a follow-up phase during which measures of behavior are taken 2 to 3
weeks after the conclusion of the experiment in order to assess trends and
temporal states. Behavioral researchers have further stated that cognitivists
fail to make any distinction between rewards and reinforcers. They posit that
these two words cannot be used synonymously. A reinforcer is an event that
increases the frequency of the target behavior it follows, and a reward is a
pleasant occurrence that has not been shown to necessarily strengthen be-
havior (Cameron & Pierce, 1994). Behaviorists use of within-subject re-
peated measures designs allows determination of whether a reward is actually
a reinforcer for a particular subject. Compared with the large number of group
studies examining this supposed event, very few studies examine the effects
of extrinsic reinforcement from a behavioral standpoint (Akin-Little & Little,
2004; Davidson & Bucher, 1978; Feingold & Mahoney, 1975; Mawhinney et
al., 1989; Mintz, 2003; Vasta, Andrews, McLaughlin, Stirpe, & Comfort,
1978; Vasta & Stirpe, 1979).
Akin-Little and Little (2004) attempted to examine the possible
overjustification effects of the implementation of token economy for appro-
priate behavior. Although exhibiting appropriate behavior in a classroom
setting may not be seen as intrinsically motivated behavior, many reward
contingency systems are used to increase compliant behavior. No previous
study used appropriate classroom behavior as the dependent variable, although
80 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
classroom management and student behavior is a major concern of many
classroom teachers. The subjects in this study were elementary school stu-
dents chosen by their teacher as high in compliant behavior to classroom
rules. The token system was implemented in an actual classroom setting.
Subjects behavior was analyzed after a B I, reward procedure, B II, and fol-
low-up period. No overjustification effect was found for any of the students
(i.e., no students behavior dropped below B I in either the B II or follow-up
phase).
Mintz (2003) used a multielement, multiple baseline across participant
design with three children to test the overjustification effect on behaviors
for which each child demonstrated a preference in the absence of external
reinforcement. The purpose of the study was to examine the effect of ex-
pected and unexpected reinforcers on behavior that met the definition for
intrinsically motivated behavior (i.e., one for which there exists no recogniz-
able reward except the activity itself). Results provided no support for the
overjustification effect. In fact, an additive effect was found; that is, after
reinforcement was removed responding remained stable and at a higher level
than was observed during baseline.
Flora and Flora (1999) evaluated the effects of extrinsic reinforcement
for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students.
Specifically, they investigated the effects of participation in a particular read-
ing program and parental reinforcement for reading on reading habits of col-
lege students. Results indicated that being reinforced with money or pizza
neither increased nor decreased the amount of reading; nor did it influence
participants self-reported intrinsic motivation for reading. These results pro-
vide no support for the hypothesis that extrinsic rewards for reading under-
mine intrinsic interest in reading. Rather, it appears that extrinsic rewards
set the conditions for continued interest in reading.
BEHAVIORAL CRITICISMS OF COGNITIVE RESEARCH
The neglect of the behavioral literature and principles in the majority
of past studies on intrinsic motivation has served to encourage cognitive re-
searchers to develop their own theories and explanations (McGinnis, 1996).
Behavioral explanations for intrinsically motivated behavior, such as antici-
pated future benefits (Bandura, 1977), intermittent reinforcement (Dickinson,
1989), competing response theory (Reiss & Sushinsky, 1975), behavioral
contrast (Bates, 1979; Feingold & Mahoney, 1975), and the presence of dis-
criminative stimuli (Flora, 1990), have been ignored.
Reiss and Sushinsky (1975) were especially critical of the overjustification
hypothesis, stating that the theory is too vague to be useful for scientific
purposes and competing response theory more adequately accounts for any
obtained decrements in intrinsic motivation. Competing response theory
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 81
suggests that a students intrinsic motivation may decrease because of other
stimuli present in the environment. Students respond to these stimuli, which
results in a decrease of their response to the targeted activity before termi-
nation of contingencies occurs. Bates (1979) offered behavioral contrast as
an additional explanation for decrements in intrinsic motivation. In this
paradigm, two behaviors are reinforced on different schedules. One behav-
ior is then extinguished. This produces an increase in response of the other
behavior. The classic example is of the pigeons pecking at different colors.
When the reinforcer for pecking at one color is withheld, the pecking at
the remaining color increases in rate and intensity. Finally, Flora (1990)
discussed the possibility of discriminative stimuli as an explanation. Ac-
cording to this account, behaviors occur in an environmental context. In-
stead of examining an unobservable construct such as intrinsic motivation,
Flora suggested it is more useful to determine the discriminative stimu-
lus and the reinforcers in the environment that maintain a functional
relationship. These factors, Flora proposed, maintain behavior rate and
occurrence.
Additionally, Dickinson (1989) proposed that decrements in intrinsic
motivation may occur if the activity is one that subjects find boring or unin-
teresting, rewards are given for activities culturally praised as intrinsically
motivated behaviors (e.g., artistic or creative activities), or rewards become
aversive stimuli. In the first instance, motivation is decreased because satia-
tion is reached through repeated exposure to sensory reinforcement. In the
second illustration, decrement is explained through an examination of cul-
tural norms. People are often praised if they engage in certain activities that
supposedly offer specific intrinsic rewards (e.g., painting, dancing). If an in-
dividual is then extrinsically rewarded for this activity, the person may expe-
rience a decrease in praise. If praise is reinforcing for that person, he or she
may engage in the activity less often because the activity is now differentially
correlated with the loss of praise. In the third example, the subjects may not
participate in the activity because they are angry with the experimenter for
withholding the reward, they fail to meet the performance standards, or they
are offered rewards for engaging in nonpreferred activities and/or threatened
with punishment for noncompliance (Dickinson, 1989).
Eisenberger and Cameron (1996) also presented an interpretation of
the specified conditions under which rewards may decrease intrinsic motiva-
tion. They stated that individuals who receive performance-independent re-
wards may perceive that they have no control over the reward. This percep-
tion may lead to a decrease in performance that may be misinterpreted as a
decrease in intrinsic motivation. We suggest that the intrinsic interest dec-
rement may be better explained by learned helplessness that asserts that un-
controllable aversive stimulation results in generalized motivational deficits
(Eisenberger & Cameron, p. 1156). The learned helplessness theory predicts
a decrease in intrinsic motivation for performance-independent rewards. How-
82 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
ever, unlike cognitive evaluation theory, no prediction of a decrement is
suggested following task-completion rewards.
Carton (1996) examined the social cognitivist assertion that praise ap-
pears to increase intrinsic motivation whereas the delivery of tangible re-
wards appears to decrease intrinsic motivation. These assumptions are based
on cognitive evaluation theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). However, as Carton
further stated, operant psychologists reviews of the literature on the effects
of rewards on intrinsic motivation (e.g., Dickinson, 1989; Flora, 1990; Scott,
1975) reach vastly different conclusions than those conducted by psycholo-
gists with decidedly cognitive viewpoints. Important points raised by oper-
ant psychologists include the finding that many social cognitivists have pre-
sumed that reinforcement decreases intrinsic motivation when in fact the
rewards utilized in these particular studies often did not show a clear increase
in response rate. Thus, by definition, these presumed rewards were not rein-
forcement. Furthermore, cognitive studies did not assess response rates for
stability, behavioral observations included in most of these studies were of-
ten relatively brief, and these studies rarely included follow-up observations.
Carton eloquently stated that a review of the literature found little support
for examples of a decrease in intrinsic motivation on the basis of the cogni-
tive evaluation theory and revealed three confounding effects: (a) temporal
contiguity, (b) the number of reward administrations, and (c) discriminative
stimuli associated with reward availability.
Carton (1996) also discussed the effects of temporal contiguity. Tem-
poral contiguity refers to the amount of time between the occurrence of the
target behavior and the delivery of the consequence. In an examination of
the literature, Carton found time differences between the delivery of tan-
gible rewards and verbal rewards (i.e., praise) in many studies. Most of the
verbal rewards were delivered immediately after the target behavior occurred,
thereby increasing the likelihood that behavior would be repeated. In con-
trast, tangible rewards were often delivered days or weeks after the treatment
setting, virtually ensuring a decrease in the occurrence of the target behav-
ior. Cartons finding that researchers in those studies have consistently found
decreases in intrinsic motivation following the administration of tangible
rewards and increases in intrinsic motivation following the administration of
verbal rewards then is not surprising.
Cameron and Pierces (1994) meta-analytic findings that reinforcement
did not harm intrinsic motivation have been criticized by researchers who
stated that their methodology and, consequently, the conclusions drawn were
flawed (Kohn, 1996; Lepper et al., 1996). Kohn argued that Cameron and
Pierce ignored important findings that suggested that the reception of tan-
gible rewards is associated with less voluntary time on task as contrasted with
the no-reward condition. Kohn further stated that Cameron and Pierces
methodology was flawed. He suggested that it was inappropriate to detect an
overall effect by combining results from studies in which informational praise
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 83
was delivered (i.e., no detrimental effects on intrinsic motivation expected)
with studies in which praise was delivered that might be construed as ma-
nipulative (i.e., detrimental effects on intrinsic motivation expected). Fur-
ther, Kohn pointed out that, in his view, the more common type of praise in
a classroom is the latter, and, therefore, studies that utilized manipulative
praise should be examined separately. Lepper et al. (1996) labeled Cameron
and Pierces (1994) meta-analysis overly simplistic and of little theoretical
value. Similar to Kohn (1996), Lepper et al. wrote that the 1994 meta-
analysis should not have focused on an overall effect because rewards have a
variety of effects dependent on the nature of the activities, the manner in
which the rewards are administered, and the situation surrounding adminis-
tration. For example, the reception of a tangible reward would be expected to
decrease intrinsic motivation, whereas the reception of a verbal reward (i.e.,
social reinforcement) would be expected to maintain or increase intrinsic
motivation.
Cameron and Pierce (1996) responded to these criticisms by first stat-
ing that investigating the overall effect of extrinsic rewards is necessary for
practical and theoretical reasons. From a practical standpoint, it is clear that
many parents, educators, and administrators have embraced Kohns (1993)
view that overall, incentive systems are damaging. Many classroom teachers,
however, still wish to adopt an incentive program. These teachers are, there-
fore, interested in whether or not, overall, rewards would disrupt intrinsic
motivation for completing work or attaining a specified level of performance.
The overall effect of reward, then, is critical (Cameron & Pierce, 1996).
Theoretically, many academic journals and textbooks point to the overall
detrimental effects of rewards or reinforcement. Consequently, many par-
ents, teachers, and others are loath to use any reinforcement procedure un-
der any conditions. It is necessary then, according to Cameron and Pierce, to
analyze the overall effect of rewards because many writers are criticizing the
use of incentive programs in educational settings. These criticisms are based
on research findings that some interpret as indicating an overall negative
effect. Cameron and Pierce concluded their response by stating that their
meta-analysis was the most thorough to date on this topic and compared
favorably with Tang and Halls (1995) analysis that included 50 studies,
Wiersmas (1992) analysis that contained 20 studies, and Rummel and
Feinbergs (1988) analysis that comprised 45 studies. Each of these analyses
discovered overall that extrinsic rewards had detrimental effects on intrinsic
motivation. These findings were in direct contrast to the conclusions of
Cameron and Pierce, who stated emphatically that their results, from an analy-
sis of over 100, illustrated that rewards can be used to maintain or even en-
hance intrinsic motivation. More important, the conditions under which
detrimental effects to intrinsic motivation are exhibited occur under highly
circumscribed conditions, situations that are easily avoided by the proper use
of token reinforcement programs.
84 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
In response to Cameron and Pierces (1994) meta-analytic findings,
Deci et al. (1999a) conducted a separate meta-analysis in part to refute the
previous findings. They included 128 studies and arranged the analysis to
provide a test of cognitive evaluation theory. Deci and colleagues did find
support for cognitive evaluation theory and substantial undermining effects
following the use of external rewards. They specifically examined verbal re-
wards (termed positive feedback) separately from tangible rewards. The tan-
gible rewards were further divided into the categories of unexpected and ex-
pected. The expected-reward category included the divisions of task
noncontingent (rewards given not for engaging in the task specifically but
for participation in the experiment), engagement contingent (rewards given
for participation in the task), completion contingent (rewards given for
completion of the task), and performance contingent (rewards given only for
performing the task well, or surpassing a previously set standard). A decre-
ment in intrinsic motivation, measured by time on task for 101 of the studies
and self-report of interest for 84 of the studies, was found in every category
except verbal rewards and unexpected rewards. It is interesting that Deci et
al. divided the verbal reward studies into the categories of college-age and
children. Although verbal rewards enhanced the intrinsic motivation of col-
lege students (i.e., significant increase), the delivery of verbal rewards did
not enhance childrens intrinsic motivation. Deci et al. also discussed the
importance of the interpersonal context in the delivery of verbal reward (i.e.,
rewards delivered in a controlling manner will tend to decrease intrinsic mo-
tivation, whereas rewards delivered in a noncontrolling manner will tend to
increase feelings of competence and, hence, intrinsic motivation).
On the basis of the finding that children exhibited less enhancement
from verbal rewards than college students, Deci et al. (1999a) suggested that
this finding has important implications for the use of verbal praise in the
classroom, writing that verbal rewards are less likely to have a positive effect
for children . . . [they] can even have a negative effect on intrinsic motiva-
tion (p. 9). That is a misleading assumption. The importance (Maag &
Katsiyannis, 1999) and effectiveness of teacher attention, particularly in the
form of verbal praise, have been documented (Drevno et al., 1994; Parrish,
Cataldo, Kolko, Neef, & Engel, 1986; Valcante, Roberson, Reid, & Wolking,
1989). The assertion that verbal praise should not be utilized in a classroom
setting is in direct opposition to the available data.
Cameron et al. (2001) completed the most recent meta-analysis and
found, in general, that rewards do not decrease intrinsic motivation. Their
sample included 145 studies and similar categorizations to Deci et al. (1999a).
Although the sample was not homogeneous, an overall effect size was calcu-
lated. Cameron (2001) stated this overall effect is important as educators
and other school personnel often report that all rewards are harmful to moti-
vation. Contrary to Deci et al., Cameron et al. included the categories of
high and low initial interest. Notably, they found that reward can enhance
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 85
time on task and intrinsic motivation. This is in accordance with Banduras
(1986) finding that most activities have little initial interest for people but
that engagement in the activity may increase interest. This has important
implications for schools because many children do not find academic tasks
initially appealing. The reward, then, may be used to increase students time
on task and intrinsic motivation for a task. Cameron et al. (2001) did not
find decremental effects with the use of verbal praise for either children or
college students. Instead, they found a significant increase.
In terms of tangible reward, no detrimental effect was found for unex-
pected rewards or for rewards that are closely tied to specific standards of
performance and to success. Detrimental effect was found when rewards were
not explicitly connected to the task and signified failure. This last finding is
also important to educators who may be attempting to use reinforcement to
increase either social or academic behavior. Often, teachers will set the goals
for a student too high. Behavioral principles state that it is important to
shape behavior, reinforcing the childs current competencies and giving the
child a chance for success.
It is also important to remember that neither of these meta-analyses
examined the results of more behavioral studies (e.g., Feingold & Mahoney,
1975). No study to date utilizing single-case design (e.g., Akin-Little & Little,
2004; Mintz, 2003) has found any detrimental effects with the use of rein-
forcement contingencies (Akin-Little et al., 2004). This is significant, as
those studies tend to more typically mimic the use of reward contingencies in
classrooms. Perhaps if more behaviorally oriented studies were conducted,
there would be no detection of the supposed detrimental effects of the re-
ward on any task or behavior.
BEST PRACTICES IN THE USE OF REINFORCEMENT
PROCEDURES IN THE CLASSROOM
In 1991, the National Education Association published a document
titled How to Kill Creativity (Tegano et al., 1991) that stated the following:
The expectation of reward can actually undermine intrinsic motivation
and creativity of performance . . . . A wide variety of rewards have now
been tested, and everything from good-player awards to marshmallows
produces the expected decrements in intrinsic motivation and creativity
of performance. . . . [making] them [students] much less likely to take
risks or to approach a task with a playful or experimental attitude.
(p. 119)
However, a review of several educational psychology books (e.g., Slavin, 2006;
Woolfolk, 2007) revealed a more balanced view of the effects of rewards by
including the findings of Cameron and Pierce (1994), along with Deci and
86 AKIN-LITTLE AND LITTLE
Ryan (1985) and Lepper et al. (1973). This is an encouraging sign because
many of the findings in this area support the effectiveness of reinforcement
procedures in the classroom, and many researchers have criticized the litera-
ture on supposed damaging effects (e.g., Bandura, 1986; Bates, 1979;
Dickinson, 1989; Flora, 1990; Morgan, 1984).
Additionally, any detrimental effects of the use of extrinsic reinforce-
ment can be easily avoided. Rewards should not be presented for mere par-
ticipation in a task without regard for completion or quality. Decrements
have also been found in the social cognitive literature when rewards are pre-
sented on a single occasion. This is not the most common method used in
classrooms. In general, reward contingencies used in schools are presented
repeatedly with appropriate thinning of schedules utilized when behavior
change has occurred. Psychologists are advised to heed this advice when con-
sulting and planning with teachers on the use of reinforcers in the school
setting.
Teachers continually request training in behavior and classroom man-
agement (Maag, 1999). The irony is that techniques that aid teachers in
improving their management skills have existed since Skinners (1953) semi-
nal work on the principles of operant conditioning. Techniques based on the
use of extrinsic reinforcers (i.e., positive reinforcement) work in the class-
room. These include verbal praise, token economies, group contingencies,
and contracts (Little & Akin-Little, 2003). The question, then, is why teacher
education programs are not incorporating these principles into their curricu-
lum. Why is there such resistance to the data? Axelrod (1996) suggested that
some causes for the lack of both professional and popular acceptance (Kohn,
1993) may be that the use of positive reinforcement consumes too much
time, attempts to eliminate human choice, and offers little compensation for
educational personnel for using these procedures. This is a somewhat dis-
couraging view, and one can only hope that future and current teachers and
educational personnel make evidence-based decisions when choosing inter-
ventions for children and youth.
Bribery is defined in the dictionary as an inducement to engage in ille-
gal or inappropriate behavior. When education personnel, including school
psychologists, extol the use of extrinsic reinforcement in the classroom, the
motive is clearly not to bribe children and youth, but to increase appropri-
ate academic and social behavior. The goal is obviously not to decrease in-
trinsic motivation, although it is unclear that the construct exists or is useful
in the science of psychology. It is apparent through an examination of the
data that any decrease occurs only under specifically circumscribed condi-
tions, conditions that are easily avoidable. Best practice suggests that chil-
dren and youth deserve interventions based on sound, empirical findings.
The positive effect of the use of reinforcers in the classroom is one such
conclusion.
TRUE EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REINFORCEMENT 87
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I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.
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