Reward typologies

Reward typologies

I have written previously why rewarding students in music lessons may not foster true intrinsic motivation. Rewards are complex phenomena and there is more to rewards. According to self-determination theory, rewards are evaluated by students in several ways. These evaluations add some level of prediction about the effect or rewards for students.

Music studio teaching
Using rewards in music studio teaching

Rewards have contingencies. These contingencies have developed under cognitive evaluation theory, which is a process of self-determination theory (Deci, 1980). Cognitive evaluation theory argues that conditions which negatively affect an individual’s experience of autonomy or competence will diminish intrinsic motivation. Conversely, when support for autonomy or competence is experienced, this will enhance intrinsic motivation. Rewards are considered to be controlling as they attempt to manipulate behaviour.

Cognitive evaluation theory determines the function of the reward. This is known as functional significance. The reward can be experienced as informational or controlling, which enhances or decreases intrinsic motivation. Further, cognitive evaluation theory distinguishes certain features of rewards. The first is the reward is categorised as either verbal or tangible. Verbal rewards are experienced as more informational whereas tangible rewards are experienced as controlling. Second, cognitive evaluation theory distinguishes between rewards which are expected or unexpected when doing a task. Finally, cognitive evaluation theory distinguishes the behaviours on which the expected rewards are made contingent.

From this information, rewards can be placed into a typology (Ryan, Mims, & Koestner, 1983).  Rewards are either task-contingent, performance-contingent, completion-contingent, or task-noncontingent. Task-contingent rewards are given for engagement in a task regardless of the standard achieved. Performance-contingent rewards are given for performing an activity well or to some standard. Completion-contingent rewards are given for completion of a task. Task-noncontingent rewards are given for something other than engaging in the activity.

Importantly, task non-contingent rewards are the only reward which is not experienced as controlling, therefore, there no decrease in intrinsic motivation is expected. The remainder of the rewards are considered controlling because they attempt to manipulate behaviour. Additionally, these rewards carry little or no competence information. Although one could argue that performance-contingent rewards carry competence information due to a standard required to receive the reward, the reward is fundamentally controlling.

Importantly for teachers, we need to raise our level of awareness in the use and effects of rewards. Understanding the reward typology may help to shape our instrumental teaching pedagogy in ways which minimises control, allowing for students to fuel themselves on their own intrinsic motivation, interests, and enjoyment. We may unwittingly, through the use of seemingly innocuous rewards, quash students’ own self-determined motivation and engagement for learning music. The best reward we can given to our students is the unexpected verbal reward based around the development of competence, skills, and overall task mastery.

Deci, E. L. (1980). The psychology of self-determination. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington, Mass. : Lexington Books.

Ryan, R. M., Mims, V., & Koestner, R. (1983). Relation of reward contingency and interpersonal context to intrinsic motivation: A review and test using cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(4), 736-750.

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