The Psychological Record

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 323–346 | Cite as

Undermining Intrinsic Interest from the Standpoint of A Behaviorist

  • Stephen Ray Flora


The proposition that the use of contingent, “extrinsic” reinforcement undermines the rate at which “intrinsically interesting” behaviors occur is examined from a behavior-analytic viewpoint. Review of the literature suggests that environmental stimuli control the rates of behaviors rather than interest intrinsic to the organism. Reduced rates of behavior typically attributed to the undermining of intrinsic interest are more objectively accounted for by environmental stimuli functions, including instructional control and by Herrnstein’s (1970) matching law. When the hypothetical version of intrinsic motivation is contrasted with a physiological version of intrinsic motivation, the hypothetical version makes the opposite prediction of every effect that occurs. Recommendations based on the concept of undermining intrinsic interest are flawed and possibly dangerous.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. ATWATER, J. B., & MORRIS, E. K. (1988). Teachers’ instructions and children’s compliance in preschool classrooms: A descriptive analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 21, 123–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. BARNES, D. (1989). Behavior-behavior analysis, human schedule performance, and radical behaviorism. The Psychological Record, 39, 339–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. BARON, A., & GALIZIO, M. (1983). Instructional control of human operant behavior. The Psychological Record, 33, 495–520.Google Scholar
  4. BIJOU, S. W., & BAER, D. M. (1978). Behavior analysis of child development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. CATANIA, C. A. (1984). Learning (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  6. CERUTTI, D. T. (1989). Discrimination theory of rule-governed behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 51, 259–276.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. DACKIS, C. A., GOLD, M. S., & POTTASH, A. L. (1986). Central stimulant abuse: Neurochemistry and pharmacotherapy. Advances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse, 6, 7–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DAVIDSON, P., & BUCHER, B. (1978). Intrinsic interest and extrinsic reward: The effects of a continuing token program on continuing nonconstrained preference. Behavior Therapy, 9, 222–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. DECI, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DECI, E. L. (1984). Intrinsic motivation. In R. J. Corsini (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 250–251). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. DECI, E. L., & RYAN, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DECI, E. L., & RYAN, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DICKINSON, A. M. (1989). The detrimental effects of extrinsic reinforcement on “intrinsic motivation.” The Behavior Analyst, 12, 1–15.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. ENZLE, M. E., & ROSS, J. M. (1978). Increasing and decreasing intrinsic interest with contingent rewards: A test of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14, 588–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. FEINGOLD, B. D., & MAHONEY, M. J. (1975). Reinforcement effects on intrinsic interest: Undermining the overjustification hypothesis. Behavior Therapy, 6, 367–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. FLORA, S. R., PAVLIK, W. B., & PITTENGER, D. J. (1990). Some effects of a masking task on schedule discrimination and extinction in humans. The Psychological Record, 40, 83–104.Google Scholar
  17. GREEN, L., & RACHLIN, H. (1975). Economic and biological influences on a pigeon’s key peck. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 23, 55–62.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. GREENE, D., & LEPPER, M. R. (1974). Effects of extrinsic rewards on children’s subsequent intrinsic interest. Child Development, 45, 1141–1145.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. HAYES, S. C., BROWNSTEIN, A. J., HAAS, J. R., & GREENWAY, D. E. (1986). Instructions, multiple schedules, and extinction: Distinguishing rulegoverned from schedule-controlled behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 46, 137–147.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. HERRNSTEIN, R. J. (1970). On the law of effect. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 13, 243–266.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. KANTOR, J. R. (1958). Interbehavioral psychology. Bloomington, IN: Principia Press.Google Scholar
  22. KARNIOL, R., & ROSS, M. (1977). The effect of performance-relevant and performance-irrelevant rewards on children’s intrinsic interest. Child Development, 48, 482–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. KOESTNER, R., ZUCKERMAN, M., & KOESTNER, J. (1987). Praise, involvement, and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 383–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. LEPPER, M. R. (1981). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in children: Detrimental effects of superfluous social controls. In W. A. Collins (Ed.), Aspects of the development of competence. The Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Vol. 14, pp. 155–214). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. LEPPER, M. R., & GILOVICH, T. (1981). The multiple functions of reward: A social-developmental perspective. In S. S. Brehm, S. Kassin, & F. X. Gibbions (Eds.), Developmental social psychology (pp. 5–31). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. LEPPER, M. R., & GREENE, D. (1975). Turning play into work: Effects of adult surveillance and extrinsic rewards on children’s intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 479–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. LEPPER, M. R., & GREENE, D. (1978). Divergent approaches to the study of rewards. In M. R. Lepper & D. Greene (Eds.), The hidden costs of reward (pp. 217–244). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. LEPPER, M. R., & GREENE, D., & NISBETT, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the overjustification hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 23, 129–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. MCCULLERS, J. C. (1978). Issues in learning and motivation. In M. R. Lepper & D. Greene (Eds.), The hidden costs of reward (pp. 5–18). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. MCDOWELL, J. J. (1982). The importance of Herrnstein’s mathematical statement of the law of effect for behavior therapy. American Psychologist, 37, 771–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Personal Questions: Cashing in on good grades. (1989, October). Psychology Today, p. 80.Google Scholar
  32. RACHLIN, H. (1989). Judgment, decision, and choice: A cognitive/behavioral synthesis. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  33. REYNOLDS, G. S. (1961). Behavioral contrast. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 4, 57–71.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. SCHWARTZ, B. (1989). Psychology of learning and behavior (3rd ed.). New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  35. SIDMAN, M. (1986). Functional analysis of emergent verbal classes. In T. Thompson & M. D. Zeiler (Eds.), Analysis and integration of behavioral units (pp. 213–245). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. SIEGEL, S. (1975). Evidence from rats that morphine tolerance is a learned response. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 89, 498–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. SIEGEL, S. (1979). The role of conditioning in drug tolerance and addiction. In J. D. Keehn (Ed.), Psychopathology in animals: Research and treatment implications. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  38. SIEGEL, S., HINSON, R. E., KRANK, M. D., & MCCULLY, J. (1982). Heroin “overdose” death: The contribution of drug-associated environmental cues. Science, 216, 436–437.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. SKINNER, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  40. SKINNER, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  41. SKINNER, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. SKINNER, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom & dignity. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  43. SKINNER, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  44. SMITH, N. W., MOUNTJOY, P. T., & RUBEN, D. H. (1983). Reassessment in Psychology: The Interbehavioral Alternative. Washington, DC: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  45. THOMPSON, R. F. (1985). The brain. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  46. VALLERAND, R. J., GAUVIN, L. I., & HALLIWELL, W. R. (1986). Effects of zerosum competition on children’s intrinsic motivation and perceived competence. The Journal of Social Psychology, 126, 465–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. VASTA, R., ANDREWS, D. E., MCLAUGHLIN, A. M., STIRPE, L. A., & COMFORT, C. (1978). Reinforcement effects on intrinsic interest: A classroom analog. Journal of School Psychology, 16, 161–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. VASTA, R., & STIRPE, L. A. (1979). Reinforcement effects on three measures of children’s interest in math. Behavior Modification, 3, 223–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. WAHLER, R. G., & GRAVES, M. G. (1983). Setting events in social networks: Ally or enemy in child behavior therapy. Behavior Therapy, 14, 19–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (3rd ed.) (1975). Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.Google Scholar
  51. ZIMMERMAN, B. J. (1985). The development of “intrinsic” motivation: A social learning analysis. Annals of Child Development, 2, 117–160.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Ray Flora
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations