Extrinsic And Intrinsic Motivation Case Study

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From my last post ‘Carrot And Stick – Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Nature of Motivation’, I got some feedbacks through emails from some of my CJ readers who enjoyed reading the post.

One of you even requested for more case studies showing the difference between intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Fortunately, I’ve read quite a few and here’s one of them.

Case Study on Intrinsic Motivation in Children

In Rob Yeung’s book I is for Influence: The New Science of Persuasion’, he presented a compelling case study of how rewards affect children’s intrinsic motivation in the chapter ‘The Perils of Prizes’. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the early 1970s, a Standord University psychologist named Mark Lepper and his collaborators set out to test the effects of prizes on children’s behaviour at a nursery. They wanted to understand: how much more effort would kids put into a task if they get rewarded for it?

Lepper asked the teachers at the nursery to introduce a completely brand-spanking-new activity to the class: drawing with marker pens on sheets of creany white artist’s drawing paper. While the kids had painted with brushes and drawn with crayons, they had never been allowed to draw with coloured marker pens before, so this was a totally fresh experience for them. Naturally, most of the children relished the opportunity to do something new. But after only an hour, and to the disappointment of many of the children, the materials for this new activity were wisked away.

A few days later, a research assistant came back into the classroom and, taking the children one at a time into a separate room, invited each child to draw some further pictures with the marker pens. Half of the children were put into a control group and were asked to draw pictures just as they had done before. After only six minutes – remember that these are very young children with short attention spans – the research assistant thanked each child and tool away the materials again.

The other half of the children were assigned to an experimental group, in which they were offered a prize for drawing their pictures. The research assistant explained that he had some special awards for children who drew really good pictures. Their eyes widened and their faces lit up as they drew their pictures, spurred on by the prospect of being able to show the prizes off to their friends and parents. As with the control group, the children were given six minutes to create their masterpieces. Immediately afterwards, the research assistant complimented each child and handed over the award.

The real crux of the experiment came a week later when the investigators returned to the nursery for a final time. When all of the kids were gathered in the classroom for one of their usual free play sessions, the researchers put the same marker pens and sheets of paper out on the communal tables. Now the children were faced with their standard array of options; they could run around in the playground, play with their usual toys, or return to the special marker pens. Without drawing attention to the pens or the paper, the researchers quietly observed the amount of time the various children chose to spend drawing. To what extent would the prizes that the researchers gave to half of the class affect the kids’ behaviour?

The researchers came to a stunning conclusion – one they didn’t expect and a result that turned conventional wisdom about both education and parenting on its head. The kids who were rewarded for their pretty pictures chose to spend less time drawing than those who weren’t rewarded. The children who weren’t told about the prospect of any prize continued to enjoy drawing, but the children who were given awards seemed reluctant to carry on without the promise of further honours. The initial award reduced the children’s motivation rather than spurring them on to greater heights.

But that’s not all. The investigative team also asked a group of independent art aficionados, who were unaware of the goals of the study, to evaluate the quality of the children’s handiwork. The pictures drawn by the children who were rewarded tended to be rated as less competent, less skilled than those drawn by the unrewarded children. In other words, the rewarded children didn’t just spend less time drawing when given a choice in the matter; they seemed to put less effort into their art too.”

Coaching Lesson

Lepper and his colleagues conducted this pioneering piece of research in the early 1970s and their findings were called into question at the time. Surely they were mistaken, said other researchers. But multiple groups of investigators all over the world have since come to the same conclusion. When children are doing something that is innately interesting, handing out awards and rewards typically reduces their motivation to continue. Their natural interest seems to be replaced by a hunger for compensation. And when they don’t receive any, they feel fed up and discouraged.

The lesson is unmistakeable: if you want to crush children’s intrinsic motivation – their innate enthusiasm for an activity – reward them for it!Putting it another way, we might be wise to avoid bribing, incentivising, or otherwise rewarding children to do things that we believe are truly important.

I’ve also read similar case studies done on sport athletes, with similar outcomes and conclusion. I’ll save them for future posts.

Coaching Questions

1) What insights did you gain from this case study?

2) Knowing that rewards decrease intrinsic motivation, how can you get out of your own/team’s innate learning ability?

3) How can you set and focus on intrinsic goals that motivate, and not discourage?

4) Are you a parent? How has your outlook on parenting changed?


Visit this site to find more case study examples on different topics. Follow some writing guidelines how to prepare effective case studies.


Enferno, - извиняясь, сказал Беккер.  - Я плохо себя чувствую.  - Он знал, что должен буквально вдавиться в пол. И вдруг увидел знакомый силуэт в проходе между скамьями сбоку.

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