Let’s say you are an art teacher, and you want to encourage your students to spend more time practicing their drawing. You create a “Good Drawing Certificate” to give to your students. If your goal is to have them draw more, and for them to stick with it, how should you give them the certificate? Should you give them one every time they draw? Or only sometimes? Lepper, Greene and Nisbett conducted research on this question way back in 1973. They divided children into 3 groups:
Group 1, the Expected Group — The researchers showed the children the “Good Drawing Certificate” and asked if they wanted to draw in order to get the certificate.
Group 2, the Unexpected group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention anything about a certificate. After the children spent time drawing, they received an (unexpected) drawing certificate.
Group 3, the Control Group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention a certificate and didn’t give them one.
What happened 2 weeks later? — The real part of the experiment came 2 weeks later. During playtime the drawing tools were put out in the room. The children weren’t asked anything about drawing, the tools were just put in the room and available. So what happened? Children in Groups 2 and 3, the Unexpected and the Control Groups spent the most time drawing. The children in Group 1, the ones who had received an expected reward, spent the least time drawing. “Contingent” rewards (rewards given based on specific behavior that is spelled out ahead of time) resulted in less of the desired behavior. Later the researchers went on to do more studies like this, and with adults as well as children, finding similar results.
What do you think? Do you use intrinsic or extrinsic rewards at your workplace? At your website?
And if you like to read the research:
Lepper, M., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.