Running head: EFFECTS OF EXTRINSIC REWARDS

The Effects of Extrinsic Rewards
on the Intrinsic Motivation of Young Children

Clarissa M. Darnell

Appalachian State University

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A repeated assumption within many sectors of society, including the field of education, is
that upon receiving a reward, individuals will have a greater desire or motivation to participate or
engage in the rewarded activity again in the future (Rewards and Intrinsic Interest, 2004). This
ideology is one of debate, with contrasting philosophies that either support this assumption or
oppose the use of rewards due to believed detrimental affects to a person’s intrinsic motivation.
With information from numerous theories and research studies available supporting both
philosophies, the final conclusion of the effect of using extrinsic rewards on the intrinsic
motivation of individuals, specifically young children, is left open to personal interpretation and
opinion.
Terminology
To best understand the theories and research on the effects that extrinsic rewards have on
intrinsic motivation, it is essential to have a definitionalclarity of the two motivational
influences, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation can be explained as the desires
and interests that come from within an individual (Kruse, 2007, p. 44). The “reward” received
from participation in specific activities is given by the internal satisfaction of psychological
needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness the activity or engagement brings the
individual (Deci, 2004; Kruse, 2007). Authors, Carlton and Winsler (1998), interchangeably use
the term intrinsic motivation with that of mastery motivation, which can by understood as the
intrinsic motivational drive of young children to master their environment. Extrinsic motivation,
on the other hand, implicates participating in an activity or completing a task because it leads to
the receipt ofexternal factors outside the individual (Deci, 2004; Kruse, 2007; Ledford Jr.
Gerhart, and Fang, 2013). Such extrinsic motivators often used with young children are rewards
of stickers, prizes, and verbal praise or offering the possibly of avoiding punishment as a result

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of task engagement or completion (Deci, 2004; Kruse, 2007). Such extrinsic rewards, as those
indicated above, could be divided into further classification categorization of tangible, materials
rewards, such as the stickers or prizes, and social rewards of praise and shame or punishment
(Warneken and Tomasello, 2008). Motivators, both intrinsic and extrinsic, are on occasion also
referred to as reinforcers or reinforcements (Crain, 2011).
The possibly is explored within theory and research that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation
are unrelated and separate, meaning that extrinsic rewards cannot have a direct influence on
intrinsic motivation (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013). Individuals may be motivated by both intrinsic and
extrinsic stimuli simultaneously or not at all or each motivational stimulus may not rely on the
other, meaning they may be independent from the other (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013). However,
other research supports that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not independent, but rather
interactive, meaning that the use of extrinsic motivation has an effects on intrinsic motivation,
either by diminishing or enhancing the intrinsic motivation (Deci, 2004).
Development and Theory
Some theorists believed that children were driven by innate, biological tendencies as a
basis for their learning and development, while other theorists felt that development, learning,
and attainment of skills come from extrinsic influencesor motivators(Crain, 2011).
Jean Piaget
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is regarded as one of the most important theorists due to his
comprehensive philosophy of intellectual development, recognized as the CognitiveDevelopment Theory (Crain 2011). Piaget did not specifically address the use of or the
distribution of extrinsic rewards, but did believe that a young child’s learning and development
was not influenced by external factors, such as adult teaching or environmental influences.

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Piaget believed that children were in complete control of their attainment of understanding and
learning through a biological tendency referred to as assimilation, which is the “taking in” of
information into ones cognitive structure (Crain, 2011, p. 121). He believed that children
construct their own progression through the general stages, or periods, of his developmental
theory (Period I- Sensorimotor Intelligence, Period II- Preoperational Thought, Period IIIConcrete Operations, and Period IV- Formal Operations), as they were intrinsically motivatedto
interact and engage with the external environment to build new cognitive structures (Crain, 2011,
p. 121).
Mary Montessori
The theoretical approach of Montessori’s Educational Approach, based on the beliefs of
Mary Montessori (1870-1952), share similarities with the beliefs of Piaget, as both recognize that
children are guided by intrinsic motivation and construct their own learning (Crain, 2011).
Teachers who practice this teaching approach differ from other teachers who rely on the use of
external rewards to increase enthusiasm for learning and attaining pre-set educational goal. The
Montessori teaching philosophy, removes the necessity for external rewards from the classroom,
believing that children will develop the motivation to work according to their innate drive to
improve their own capabilities. This philosophy is also in agreement with the theory of JeanJacques Rousseau, as Montessori believed that a child’s anxiety about external approval could
negatively impact the child’s ability to think and reason independently (Crain, 2011).
B.F. Skinner
B.F. Skinner (1905-1990) was considered an environmentalist, as well as a behaviorist
(Crain, 2011). However, contrasting the philosophies of John Locke, Skinner developed his own
theory of learning, recognizing that development matures in accordance to internal forces. Hewas

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most interested in examining operant behavior, the behavior expressed as one is free to move
about and “operate” on the immediate environment, as he felt this behavior plays a greater role in
human life. The display of specific human behaviors are conditioned to reoccur according to the
consequences rendered, supporting his theory that human behavior is controlled by reinforcing
stimuli. Reinforcement is explained within Skinner’s learning theory as means of increasing the
rate or strengthening a response, with positive reinforcements strengthening the rate by adding
positive consequences. The effectiveness of stimuli from such positive, conditioned reinforcers,
such as praise and attention, is contingent on the frequent association with primary, “natural”
reinforcers. Reinforcement for acceptable and appropriate behaviors displayed by children must
be rendered with immediacy of the specific behavior in order to strengthen that behavior. The
schedule at which reinforcements are given is also influential to the attainment of behaviors. If
wishing to teach a new or more desirable form of a behavior, the Skinnarian approach supports
the use of continuous reinforcement to get the behavior began, switching over then to the use of
an intermittent reinforcement schedule to encourage the continuation of the behavior.
Intermittent reinforcements presented on a variable-ratio schedule, in which the needed number
of responses needed to dispense a rewards varies, lends higher responses rates than those
responses received from the variable-interval schedule, where rewards are presented following
an average lapse of time, with mixed intervals (Crain, 2011).
Albert Bandura
Theorist, Albert Bandura, born in 1925, expanded on the learning theory of Skinner
believing that humans obtain acquisition of new knowledge from social interactions (Crain,
2011). Within the social engagements, cognitive processes take place as the learning occurs
from observation and imitation. The performance of a new response is dependent on the

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reinforcement and motivational variables received. Bandura explains that the repetition or
continuation of behaviors is influenced by the receipt of direct, vicarious, or self- reinforcements.
Direct reinforcements can be either positive or negative; positive reinforcement being admiration
or negative reinforcement being punishment. Vicarious reinforcements are those consequences
an individual observes another individual receive. Imitation of a certain behavior is likely to
occur if the individual is observed being praised, while the behavior is less likely to occur if the
model is observed being reprimanded. The third reinforcement that influences performances is
self-reinforcement, the evaluation made by an individual about his or her own behavior (Crain,
2011). The conclusion of Bandura’s philosophy of using reinforcements is that the actual
reinforce received by and individual is intrinsic, in nature, as the learning is cognitive.
John Locke
John Locke was a British philosopher, who published theoretical works within the late
17th century (Crain, 2011). Locke is considered to be the father of environmentalism and learning
theory. His philosophies differ from those of theorists and author listed above, as the Lockean
viewpoint emphasizes the influence that the outside, external environment has on an individual’s
learning and behavior acquisition. Specifically, Locke’s view on development was that children
are born as a “blank slate” and that most of an individual’s learning is taken from environmental
influence, especially within a child’s early years, but can also occur from reflecting on one’s own
beliefs and thinking (Crain, 2011, p. 7). He also lent his understanding and beliefs that learning
takes place from external influences by addressing the specific use of extrinsic rewards with
young children. He believed that rewards should only be given to children when exhibiting
acceptable and appropriate behaviors and should not be used when they desire things that are not
necessities. He believed that from this approach, children would learn that requests would be

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granted for things that were considered appropriate. Locke’s philosophy does discourage the use
of tangible rewards, such as money and sweets, as this type of reward may undermine the effect
and cause the child to find happiness only in the items. However, Locke believed that the best
rewards to be given to children are praise and flattery, given by complementing children for
portraying behaviors and actions of approval (Crain, 2011).
Theoretical Research
The first use of the term intrinsic motivation was by Harry Harlow in 1950 within his
research work of the motivational drive observed within a group of monkeys (Deci and Ryan,
1985). Attention of empirical research studies began nearly two decades later (Deci, 2004). With
the publication of the studies conducted, some specifically relating to the effects on young
children,beginningin the early 1970s and continuing throughout the following decades, even into
present day, conclusions of mixed beliefs have been drawn as to the effect that extrinsic rewards
can have on intrinsic motivation. Specific effects can be explained by theory, but it is the
examination of research that provides evidence for determining the accuracy of the theories
(Ledford Jr. et al., 2013).
Cognitive Evaluation Theory
Within the early 1970s, specifically 1971 and 1972, researchers from three independent
laboratories conducted the first studies of intrinsic motivation in humans (Deci, 2004; Lepper,
Henderlong, and Gingras, 1999). Each of the studies arrived at similar hypotheses and published
studies revealing that extrinsic rewards may have undermining, detrimental effects on intrinsic
motivation.The findings across the differing experiments were of interest due to revealing a
similar understanding across a diverse structure of the studies, based on the rewards, activities,
contingencies, and subject populations observed, ranging from the offering of a unique trip

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opportunity to high school students for participating in the study to offering money to
undergraduate college students for task completion (Lepper, Henderlong, and Gingras, 1999).
These studies illustrate the Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET), developed by Deci and his
colleague (1985) to explain the results of their findings. It is further explained that the effect of
extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation is dependent on various factors, such as the type of
award given, social context in which it is given, and the interpretation of the recipient (Ledford
Jr. et al., 2013). If the rewards received is believed by the recipient to provide positive
information, intrinsic motivation will likely increase. However, if the reward is believed to be
indicative of external control, such as controlling verbal rewards and task-contingent rewards,
given for task completion, and performance-contingent rewards, given for performing an activity
in according with task standards or expectations, then it is predicted that intrinsic motivation will
be negatively impacted or diminished. If rewards are non-contingent it is predicted that there will
be no effect on intrinsic motivation.In summation, the claim within the explanation of this theory
is that under certain conditions, the intrinsic motivation of an individual, including young
children, is undermined by the use of extrinsic rewards (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013).
Attribution Theory/ The Overjustification Effect
A later study conducted by Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973), examined the response of
preschool age children to a drawing activity with groupings in which a portion of the children
received a reward and another group was recognized as the control group, in which no reward
was offered or received. Within the study, all participating preschool children displayed an
interest in a drawing activity, using magic markers, during a pre-test observation. The group of
children was subdivided into two categories, the group that would receive a reward upon
completion of their drawing and the control group. A Good Player Award was presented to the

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children within the reward group. Following this experiment, the same group of preschool
children was observed a second time, in secret, during free-choice play time. During this time,
the same drawing materials used for the experiment were made available, in addition to other
activities. During this period, no rewards were offered to any of the children for participation in
the material usage or engagement. The results of the observation indicated that the children that
were participants in the reward group during the experiment spent less time using the drawing
materials during the period of free-choice play than those children that had not previously
received a reward. It was concluded from this experiment, that the receipt of a reward will
undermined a preschooler’s intrinsic motivation to engage in the drawing activity (Lepper et al.,
1973).
Authors, Ledford Jr. and colleagues (2013), explain the effect found within the results of
the study by Lepper and colleagues (1973) as the Overjustification Effect. This perspective
follows the framework of the Attribution Theory, which suggests that when an extrinsic reward
is offered for participation in or completionof an activity that was enjoyable to the participant,
the receipt of a reward will cause the participant to begin to attribute their behavior to the reward
given rather than to their intrinsic interest in the task (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013).The activity for
which the reward in being offered is overjustified because the reward is not required for
participation in or completion of the task, when it is initially enjoyable to the individual
(Rewards and Intrinsic Interest, 2004). Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (1999), provide additional
clarity for the degree of influence extrinsic rewards have on intrinsic motivation, as it is
explained that this negative impact of the Overjustification Effect is more detrimental to the
intrinsic motivation of young children than adults. The elder recipients are able to interpret the
reasoning for being rewarded because of their advanced cognitive ability (Deci et al., 1999).

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To further illustrate the impact of Overjustification Effect on the intrinsic motivation of
young children, a study by Warneken and Tomasello (2008) explains how the altruistic
tendencies among a test group of twenty-month old children was affected by the presentation of
extrinsic rewards. During the first part of the study, the treatment phase, the group of children
wererandomly divided into three groups for a treatment phrase; Material Reward, Praise, and
Neutral (no reward) and then presented the opportunity over several trails to offer assistance
within a staged scenario. A second part of the study was conducted to determine how the same
group of children would respond when praise and rewards were eliminated. The results
demonstrated that the children who received the material reward during the treatment phase
helped less often during the test phase, whereas the children in the praise and neutral test group
preformed equally. The receipt of the tangible, materials reward for the children in the reward
group undermined the desire of those children to continue displaying altruistic behaviors when
the rewards were no longer given (Warneken and Tomasello, 2008).
Self-Determination Theory
The foundational concept within the Self-Determination Theory is that an individual’s
self-determination is based in intrinsic motivation and fully integrated extrinsic motivation (Deci,
2004). Within this theory, extrinsic motivation is differentiated between four various forms; one
where the motivational regulation is outside of the individual and three others, including the
integrated philosophy, in which the regulation of the extrinsic motivation is internal. When a
behavior is fully integrated it shares similar qualities of behaviors that are intrinsic motivating to
an individual. The two bases of self-determination and autonomy is intrinsic motivation and fully
integrated extrinsic motivation. By providing individuals, especially young children, with
interpersonal supports for relatedness, competence, and autonomy, intrinsic motivation can be

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maintained and extrinsic behavioral integration can be facilitated to enhance the quality of
motivation for many tasks (Deci, 2004). To further clarify how it is believed that motivation is
effected, it can be understood that within favorable conditions, extrinsic rewards can enhance
intrinsic motivation (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013).
General Interest Theory
Eisenberger, Pierce, and Cameron (1999), explain that the General Interest Theory
suggests that intrinsic motivation depends on more than self-determination and competence and
that the receipt of rewards can be both beneficial and harmful to the developmental and
maintenance of an individual’s intrinsic motivation, dependent on the content and the context of
the task. Intrinsic motivation can be increased when the way the task is presented and the
circumstance is which the task addresses help meet an individual’s needs and desires.
Contrastingly, intrinsic motivation can be negatively impacted when the task is believed to be
irrelevant to the individual’s needs and desires (Eisenberger et al., 1999). General Interest
Theory contradicts certain aspects within the Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) in regards to
the use of extrinsic rewards (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013). Within CET it is believed that the use of
performance-contingent rewards will decrease intrinsic motivation; however, General Interest
Theory hypothesizes that when rewards are given for meeting performance standards, intrinsic
motivation is increased along with enhancing the individual’s feelings of competence and selfdetermination.Just as within the beliefs of the Self-Determination Theory, it is believed that
under certain conditions, the use of extrinsic rewards will increase intrinsic motivation among
individuals, as well as possibly enhance other personal perceptions (Ledford Jr. et al., 2013).

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Motivational Crowding Theory
This ideology behind the Motivational Crowding Theory is that the use of extrinsic
rewards can “crowd out” intrinsic motivation if the rewards are perceived to be controlling.
When incentives are used as extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivation suffers detrimental,
possibly even diminishing effects, as the internal desires are disguised or eliminated by an
individual’s focus on the extrinsic reward.
Meta-Analytic Reviews
A meta-analytic review combines the results of a large number of theoretical studies relating
to the same topic in a qualitative manner (Cameron, 1999). A meta-analysis conducted by
Cameron (1999) of this controversial topic, found that the belief that extrinsic rewards
undermine or decrease intrinsic motivation and interest to be an overgeneralization, due to the
restricted set of conditions utilized. The findings within the comparison indicated that when used
effectively, rewards can have beneficial effects on maintaining and increasing the intrinsic
motivation of an individual. Specifically, it was found that the use of verbal praise, positive
feedback, and tangible rewards for task-contingent and performance-contingent conditions
enhanced intrinsic motivation of individuals (Cameron, 1999). Of the opposing viewpoint, Deci,
Koestner, and Ryan (1999) published a meta-analysis review, examining one hundred and
twenty-eight studies, supporting the hypothesis that tangible, extrinsic rewards have a negative
impact on intrinsic motivation by undermining an individual’s internal desires or interest. It is
acknowledged that the distribution of extrinsic rewards can control the behavior of individuals
and achieve short-term goals, but in doing so the individual’s desire or capability to assume
responsibility for motivating and regulating themselves in the future is undermined, possibly
presenting negative long-term effects (Deci et al., 1999).

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Transdisciplinary Teaming
Making connections from theory and research findings, it can be concluded that children
can be affected, both positively and negatively, by the use of external motivators and rewards.
The overall goal for all persons involved in the fostering the development of young children
should remain focused on enhancing the development of intrinsic motivation and interest. With
this focus in mind, it is imperative that all persons involved in the lives of a young child,
including teachers or childcare providers, related service providers, if necessary, and parents,
have the same understanding of motivational development in young children.
Within the field of education, specific approaches to learning and techniques for
effectively teaching young children are available and widely recognized. One organization that
focuses on child developmentis the National Association for the Education of Young Children
(NAEYC). Many resource materials have been published by this organization, including the
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) manual, including the research-based philosophes
that the organization support as to how young children development and learn and ways in which
that development is most effectively supported by teachers and caregivers. Specifically on the
topic of extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation, DAP supports theory and research findings
that the use of extrinsic rewards can have detrimental effects on the intrinsic motivation of young
children (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009). The manual specifically addresses that when tangible
rewards are given consistently to children for good behavior or for skill mastery, rather than
focusing on the actual learning experience, the internal motivation of the children could be
negatively impacted (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009, p. 227). In order to promote best teaching
practice andsupport the development of the intrinsic motivation within young children, it is
recommended for teachers and care givers plan learning opportunities for young children that

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will capitalize on their natural curiosity and interest in order to prompt development and learning
(p. 226). By embracing this interest and curiosity, children will become enthusiastic learners,
meaning they are motivated and interested to learn. With a strong motivational desire to learn,
the children will more likely be successful learners, both in preschool and in years to come
(Copple and Bredekamp, 2009, p. 120). Teachers and other caregivers should incorporate
research-based methods and techniques into their own teaching practices that support moving
away from controlling practices that rely heavily on the use of extrinsic rewards, toward
practices that embrace the interest of the children, building on their intrinsic motivation to learn.
However, it is important to understand and consider that when teaching young children
with various needs and abilities there are certain conditions where the use of extrinsic rewards
are appropriate and will not necessarily undermine intrinsic motivation (Deci et al., 1999).
NAEYC recognizes these conditions and addresses them by explaining that there is a small
population of children (e.g. children with special needs or challenging behaviors) that may
benefit from the use of a reward system, when used for a minimal time period (Copple and
Bredekamp, 2009, p. 227). Teachers need to mindfully consider the individual needs of all
students in order to make the most appropriate decision to promote optimal development and
learning.
Families
The involvement of families within the classroom and as part of a transdisciplinary team
is crucial to fostering healthy development of young children. Teaching and support of
developmental growth does not only take place when in childcare or at school, it actually begins
and continues within the child’s home (Deci, 2004). However, when parents are unaware of the
proper ways in which to offer support, or are pressured by outside circumstances and stressors in

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their own lives, the method for teaching their children can conflict with the interests and desires
of the children, causing the children to begin exhibiting resistance. When this resistance
emerges, parents often use the techniques of controlling and pressuring the children into
compliance, often through the use of extrinsic motivators, such as incentives and rewards. This
contradicts some theory and research, as children need positive autonomy support to enhance
motivation and overall well-being (Deci, 2004). Families are sometimes unaware of how this
support should be given, so it is imperative that families be educated about the importance and
ways in which they can support this development.Teachers should educate parents and family
members about the effects, both positive and negative, of using extrinsic rewards with young
children in order to allow them to make an informed decision for the parenting style that will be
used within their home. More specifically, teachers can provide guidance for supporting intrinsic
motivation and offer assistance as to how extrinsic motivatorscan be appropriately incorporated
into the parenting style used by families, if needed.
Another strategy that teachers, or other team members, could share with families is how
to offer effective praise within the home (Kruse, 2007). Praise and recognition can be
incorporated into interactions as family members participate in play and activities with the child,
encouraging children to describe their ideas and efforts and acknowledging the child’ work with
specific comments, in order to build on the child’s natural curiosity and desires (Kruse, 2007).
Most importantly, parents should be encouraged to identify and accept the unique strengths and
interests of their child as a learner. These strategies, and other appropriate techniques of
engaging with their child, could be demonstrated to parents during classroom visits and
observations, which should be often encouraged and utilized (Kruse, 2007). Families should

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beutilized as a valuable resource for promoting the development of skills and learning in young
children, including building and maintaining a child’s intrinsic interest and motivation.
Implications for the Field
When comparing all the data and information, contradictory beliefs about the effects of
extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation can be identified. Some findings indicate that the
presentation of extrinsic material rewards to young children has been noted to undermine the
intrinsic motivation of the child and lessen the repetition of that behavior (Cameron, 1999; Deci
and Ryan, 1985; Lepper et al., 1973; Ledford Jr. et al., 2013). Contrastingly, other findings and
beliefs support the use of extrinsic rewards, noting that under certain conditions and when used
appropriately, extrinsic motivators, such as social rewards of praise, will not cause negative
effects to intrinsic motivation and could even increase a specific behavior (Ledford Jr. et al.,
2013; Warneken and Tomasello, 2008).
Although theoretical philosophies and research findings contradict and are somewhat
controversial in the field, the available information provides important implications for
effectively teaching young children. Important conclusions can be drawn from theory and
research findings about the positive and negative effects of extrinsic rewards on the intrinsic
motivation of humans, particularly young children. All participants that take part in educating
young children must make themselves aware of the theories, research, and recommended
practices available on this topic in order become educated on the subject and make an informed
decision of how to best meet the specific needs of each child.

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