Rewards affect feelings towards learning and motivation

Rewards affect feelings towards learning and motivation

Rewards are extrinsic motivators (Hidi, 2015). They change the reason for doing a task from internal to external. It may seem like common sense to motivate a student to start or complete a task with the use of reward. However, the change from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation with the use of the reward now changes the reason for doing the task. The task is now about getting the reward and not for genuine interest, curiosity, and learning.

Teacher in classroom. One of the students raises arm to answer the question. Desire to answer. Female young student in a group raises her arm in order to answer the question.
Intrinsic motivation and the use of rewards.

Rewards have a significant impact on interest (Barrett et al., 1988). Rewards compete with intrinsic motivation and interest. In fact, rewards have been said to undermine intrinsic motivation (Ryan et al., 2000). Rewards lead to less interest in a task. Rewards also negatively affect the quality of learning and the learning and performance outcomes of the task (Lee et al., 2014; Schiefele, 1991).

Using rewards as a prerequisite to move from one activity to another tends to devalue the first activity (Barrett et al., 1988). There is some devaluation of a task when a reward is used as an incentive to complete the task. Rewards also lower ones perceptions of autonomy—a core aspect of our well-being.

Rewards are detrimental to interest

Not only are rewards detrimental to interest, learning, and intrinsic motivation, but so are techniques such as threats, being watched, evaluation, and deadlines (Benware et al., 1984; Deci, 1975; Deci et al., 2001; Deci et al., 1985). Because of their nature, rewards preclude satisfaction for completion of a task.

A reward is issued to perform a task, not for the tasks sake, but for the rewards sake. Tasks which were once interesting now become unsatisfying upon completion. Lack of satisfaction impairs intrinsic interest to  complete a task of a similar nature in the future (Schiefele, 1991). Constantly using rewards to inspire students to complete a task may induce the opposite of the desired effect.


Barrett, M., & Boggiano, A. K. (1988). Forstering extrinsic orientations: Use of reward strategies to motivate children. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 6(3/4), 293-309.

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755-765. Deci, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York: New York : Plenum Press.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in education: Reconsidered once again. Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 1-27.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum. Hidi, S. (2015). Revisiting the role of rewards in motivation and learning: Implications of neuroscientific research. Educational Psychological Review.

Lee, W., Lee, M.-J., & Bong, M. (2014). Testing interest and self-efficacy as predictors of academic self-regulation and achievement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(2), 86-99.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). When rewards compete with nature: The undermining of intrinsic motivation and self-regulation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for motivation and optimal performance (pp. 14-54). San Diego: Academic Press.

Schiefele, U. (1991). Interest, Learning, and Motivation. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 299-323.


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