Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues

Abstract

A major concern in psychology and education is that rewards decrease intrinsic motivation to perform activities. Over the past 30 years, more than 100 experimental studies have been conducted on this topic. In 1994, Cameron and Pierce conducted a meta-analysis of this literature and concluded that negative effects of reward were limited and could be easily prevented in applied settings. A more recent meta-analysis of the literature by Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (1999) shows pervasive negative effects of reward. The purpose of the present article is to resolve differences in previous meta-analytic findings and to provide a meta-analysis of rewards and intrinsic motivation that permits tests of competing theoretical explanations. Our results suggest that in general, rewards are not harmful to motivation to perform a task. Rewards given for low-interest tasks enhance free-choice intrinsic motivation. On high-interest tasks, verbal rewards produce positive effects on free-choice motivation and self-reported task interest. Negative effects are found on high-interest tasks when the rewards are tangible, expected (offered beforehand), and loosely tied to level of performance. When rewards are linked to level of performance, measures of intrinsic motivation increase or do not differ from a nonrewarded control group. Overall, the pattern of results indicates that reward contingencies do not have pervasive negative effects on intrinsic motivation. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are addressed.

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Correspondence to Judy Cameron.

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This work was supported by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Cameron, J., Banko, K.M. & Pierce, W.D. Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues. BEHAV ANALYST 24, 1–44 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03392017

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Key words

  • meta-analysis
  • rewards
  • reinforcement
  • intrinsic motivation
  • intrinsic interest