The most prominent view in psychological theory has been that negative feedback should generally have a detrimental impact on intrinsic motivation. Competing perspectives and caveats on this view have suggested that negative feedback may sometimes have neutral or even positive effects. This meta-analysis of 78 studies examined the effect of negative feedback on intrinsic motivation in both child and adult samples. Results indicated that negative feedback had no effect on intrinsic motivation when compared to neutral or no feedback. When compared to positive feedback, negative feedback decreased intrinsic motivation. Moderator tests revealed that the effect of negative feedback seemed to be less demotivating when (a) the feedback statement included instructional details on how to improve, (b) criterion-based standards were used to provide feedback, and (c) feedback was delivered in-person. Implications for future research and applications to real-world settings are discussed.
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We conducted moderator analyses comparing effects from studies using assumed information to derive effect sizes (ES) with studies with studies using more precise algebraic formulae. For the negative feedback condition vs. neutral/no feedback conditions, there was no evidence of significant moderation of effect size treatment (FE: Q = .27, p = .60, RE: Q = 1.16, p = .28.). Regardless of effect size treatment, both weighted average effects (k = 13 treated effect sizes; k = 32 non-treated effect sizes) were not significantly different from zero. For the negative feedback condition vs. positive feedback conditions, there was no evidence of significant moderation of ES treatment for random effects (RE: Q = 1.97, p = .16), but there was evidence of moderation under fixed effects (FE: Q = 15.81, p = .001). However, under fixed effects, effects for both treated ES (k = 15) and non-treated ES (k = 85) were both in the same direction and significantly different from zero, which supports the main effect that was found. Although non-treated ES studies had larger effects, this is expected because the treated effects were conservative estimates. Also, it should be noted that the sample sizes in the subgroup analysis were heavily unbalanced, and results should be interpreted with some caution as well.
Because we tested each moderator separately, there is a possibility that moderators were confounded with one another. Therefore, we examined pairwise relationships between significant moderator variables: social context of feedback, feedback standard, motivational feedback types, task interestingness, and participant age group, and measurement type. Because all variables assessed were categorical, chi-square tests were conducted; however, none of the results were significant, suggesting no evidence of confounding moderators.
*Studies included in the meta-analysis are denoted by an asterisk. Full list is in the supplement.
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Fong, C.J., Patall, E.A., Vasquez, A.C. et al. A Meta-Analysis of Negative Feedback on Intrinsic Motivation. Educ Psychol Rev 31, 121–162 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-018-9446-6
- Negative feedback
- Intrinsic motivation
- Perceived competence