Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 61–93 | Cite as

Revisiting the Role of Rewards in Motivation and Learning: Implications of Neuroscientific Research

  • Suzanne Hidi
Review Article


Rewards have been examined extensively by both psychologists and neuorscientists and have become one of the most contentious issues in social and educational psychology. In psychological research, reward processing has typically been studied in relation to behavioral outcomes. In contrast, neuroscientists have been examining how rewards are processed by brain structures that are related to the reward circuitry, and in a few instances have also evaluated behavioral outcomes. In this article, I first present findings from both the social and educational psychology and neuroscientific research on reward processing that have frequently been reported without acknowledgment of the presence of the other. Subsequently, five topics pointing to the need for integration of research findings across these two fields are considered. These include the following: (a) distinctions between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, (b) causes of undermining effects of rewards, (c) potential benefits of choice provided for individuals, (d) differences in reward types, and (e) individual differences in reward processing. It is argued that, if positive aspects of rewards are to be utilized and their potentially negative effects are to be avoided, neuroscientific, social, and educational research findings need to be integrated. This paper provides a first step toward such integration.


Rewards Reward circuitry Neuroscience Motivation Learning Brain activation 



First, I would like to thank my friend and long-time collaborator, Ann Renninger, for her help and encouragement during the preparation of this manuscript. Without her intellectual input, critical comments, and editorial assistance, this paper probably would have never been published. Second, I also want to acknowledge the help I received from Patricia Alexander and four neuroscientists: Ken Berridge, Brian Knutson, Kou Murayama, and Jaak Panksepp. Their willingness to have a dialog and ongoing conversations with me were invaluable. Helpful discussions with Pietro Boscolo, Judy Cameron, Rob Eisenberger, Rachael Karmiol, Mark Lepper, Steven Reiss, and Barry Zimmerman are also gratefully noted. I appreciate the support I received from as the Editorial assistance of Shubhangi Rathore, Anubhuti Jain, Andre Hidi, and Molly Hidi.

Finally, my gratitude goes to my husband, Andrew Hidi for his moral as well as financial support, and patience during the arduous journey that led to the publication of my work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senior CollegeUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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