Punished By Rewards Essay

ERIC Digest
December 1994

ERIC Identifier: ED376990


The Risks of Rewards

By Alfie Kohn

Para leer este artículo en Español, haga clic aquí.

Many educators are acutely aware that punishment and threats are counterproductive. Making children suffer in order to alter their future behavior can often elicit temporary compliance, but this strategy is unlikely to help children become ethical, compassionate decision makers. Punishment, even if referred to euphemistically as “consequences,” tends to generate anger, defiance, and a desire for revenge. Moreover, it models the use of power rather than reason and ruptures the important relationship between adult and child.

Of those teachers and parents who make a point of not punishing children, a significant proportion turn instead to the use of rewards. The ways in which rewards are used, as well as the values that are considered important, differ among (and within) cultures. This digest, however, deals with typical practices in classrooms in the United States, where stickers and stars, A’s and praise, awards and privileges, are routinely used to induce children to learn or comply with an adult’s demands (Fantuzzo et al., 1991). As with punishments, the offer of rewards can elicit temporary compliance in many cases. Unfortunately, carrots turn out to be no more effective than sticks at helping children to become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self-directed learners.

REWARDS VS. GOOD VALUES

Studies over many years have found that behavior modification programs are rarely successful at producing lasting changes in attitudes or even behavior. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program began. More disturbingly, researchers have recently discovered that children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers (Fabes et al., 1989; Grusec, 1991; Kohn 1990).

Indeed, extrinsic motivators do not alter the emotional or cognitive commitments that underlie behavior–at least not in a desirable direction. A child promised a treat for learning or acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when there is no longer a reward to be gained.

Research and logic suggest that punishment and rewards are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Both strategies amount to ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior–in one case, prompting the question, “What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don’t do it?”, and in the other instance, leading a child to ask, “What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?” Neither strategy helps children to grapple with the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”

REWARDS VS. ACHIEVEMENT

Rewards are no more helpful at enhancing achievement than they are at fostering good values. At least two dozen studies have shown that people expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing (Kohn, 1993). This effect is robust for young children, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds; and for tasks ranging from memorizing facts to designing collages to solving problems. In general, the more cognitive sophistication and open-ended thinking that is required for a task, the worse people tend to do when they have been led to perform that task for a reward.

There are several plausible explanations for this puzzling but remarkably consistent finding. The most compelling of these is that rewards cause people to lose interest in whatever they were rewarded for doing. This phenomenon, which has been demonstrated in scores of studies (Kohn, 1993), makes sense given that “motivation” is not a single characteristic that an individual possesses to a greater or lesser degree. Rather, intrinsic motivation (an interest in the task for its own sake) is qualitatively different from extrinsic motivation (in which completion of the task is seen chiefly as a prerequisite for obtaining something else) (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Therefore, the question educators need to ask is not how motivated their students are, but how their students are motivated.

In one representative study, young children were introduced to an unfamiliar beverage called kefir. Some were just asked to drink it; others were praised lavishly for doing so; a third group was promised treats if they drank enough. Those children who received either verbal or tangible rewards consumed more of the beverage than other children, as one might predict. But a week later these children found it significantly less appealing than they did before, whereas children who were offered no rewards liked it just as much as, if not more than, they had earlier (Birch et al., 1984). If we substitute reading or doing math or acting generously for drinking kefir, we begin to glimpse the destructive power of rewards. The data suggest that the more we want children to wantto do something, the more counterproductive it will be to reward them for doing it.

Deci and Ryan (1985) describe the use of rewards as “control through seduction.” Control, whether by threats or bribes, amounts to doing things to children rather than working with them. This ultimately frays relationships, both among students (leading to reduced interest in working with peers) and between students and adults (insofar as asking for help may reduce the probability of receiving a reward).

Moreover, students who are encouraged to think about grades, stickers, or other “goodies” become less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively, and take chances. At least ten studies have shown that people offered a reward generally choose the easiest possible task (Kohn, 1993). In the absence of rewards, by contrast, children are inclined to pick tasks that are just beyond their current level of ability.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE FAILURE OF REWARDS

The implications of this analysis and these data are troubling. If the question is “Do rewards motivate students?”, the answer is, “Absolutely: they motivate students to get rewards.” Unfortunately, that sort of motivation often comes at the expense of interest in, and excellence at, whatever they are doing. What is required, then, is nothing short of a transformation of our schools.

First, classroom management programs that rely on rewards and consequences ought to be avoided by any educator who wants students to take responsibility for their own (and others’) behavior–and by any educator who places internalization of positive values ahead of mindless obedience. The alternative to bribes and threats is to work toward creating a caring community whose members solve problems collaboratively and decide together how they want their classroom to be (DeVries & Zan, 1994; Solomon et al., 1992).

Second, grades in particular have been found to have a detrimental effect on creative thinking, long-term retention, interest in learning, and preference for challenging tasks (Butler & Nisan, 1986; Grolnick & Ryan, 1987). These detrimental effects are not the result of too many bad grades, too many good grades, or the wrong formula for calculating grades. Rather, they result from the practice of grading itself, and the extrinsic orientation it promotes. Parental use of rewards or consequences to induce children to do well in school has a similarly negative effect on enjoyment of learning and, ultimately, on achievement (Gottfried et al., 1994). Avoiding these effects requires assessment practices geared toward helping students experience success and failure not as reward and punishment, but as information.

Finally, this distinction between reward and information might be applied to positive feedback as well. While it can be useful to hear about one’s successes, and highly desirable to receive support and encouragement from adults, most praise is tantamount to verbal reward. Rather than helping children to develop their own criteria for successful learning or desirable behavior, praise can create a growing dependence on securing someone else’s approval. Rather than offering unconditional support, praise makes a positive response conditional on doing what the adult demands. Rather than heightening interest in a task, the learning is devalued insofar as it comes to be seen as a prerequisite for receiving the teacher’s approval (Kohn, 1993).

CONCLUSION

In short, good values have to be grown from the inside out. Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive. Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning. Rewards–like punishments–are unnecessary when these things are present, and are ultimately destructive in any case.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Birch, L.L., D.W. Marlin, and J. Rotter. (1984). Eating as the ‘Means’ Activity in a Contingency: Effects on Young Children’s Food Preference. CHILD DEVELOPMENT 55(2, Apr): 431-439. EJ 303 231.

Butler, R., and M. Nisan. (1986). Effects of No Feedback, Task-Related Comments, and Grades on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance. JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 78(3, June): 210-216. EJ 336 917.

Deci, E. L., and R. M. Ryan. (1985). INTRINSIC MOTIVATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION IN HUMAN BEHAVIOR. New York: Plenum.

DeVries, R., and B. Zan. (1994). MORAL CLASSROOMS, MORAL CHILDREN: CREATING A CONSTRUCTIVIST ATMOSPHERE IN EARLY EDUCATION. New York: Teachers College Press.

Fabes, R.A., J. Fultz, N. Eisenberg, T. May-Plumlee, and F.S. Christopher. (1989). Effects of Rewards on Children’s Prosocial Motivation: A Socialization Study. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 25(4, Jul): 509-515. EJ 396 958.

Fantuzzo, J.W., C.A. Rohrbeck, A.D. Hightower, and W.C. Work. (1991). Teachers’ Use and Children’s Preferences of Rewards in Elementary School. PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS 28(2, Apr): 175-181. EJ 430 936.

Gottfried, A.E., J.S. Fleming, and A.W. Gottfried. (1994). Role of Parental Motivational Practices in Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation and Achievement. JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 86(1): 104-113.

Grolnick, W.S., and R.M. Ryan. (1987). Autonomy in Children’s Learning: An Experimental and Individual Difference Investigation. JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY 52: 890-898.

Grusec, J.E. (1991). Socializing Concern for Others in the Home. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 27(2, Mar): 338-342. EJ 431 672.

Kohn, A. (1990). THE BRIGHTER SIDE OF HUMAN NATURE: ALTRUISM AND EMPATHY IN EVERYDAY LIFE. New York: Basic Books.

Kohn, A. (1993). PUNISHED BY REWARDS: THE TROUBLE WITH GOLD STARS, INCENTIVE PLANS, A’S, PRAISE, AND OTHER BRIBES. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Solomon, D., M. Watson, V. Battistich, E. Schaps, and K. Delucchi. (1992). Creating a Caring Community: Educational Practices That Promote Children’s Prosocial Development. In F.K. Oser, A. Dick, and J.L. Patry (Eds.), EFFECTIVE AND RESPONSIBLE TEACHING: THE NEW SYNTHESIS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rewards And Punishment Essay

The relationship between an employer and employee is defined by many boundaries. During the interview process, the prospective employee is asked questions related to the job in question as well as how they might perform in specific situations. It is during this crucial time; a relationship is established on what is to be expected from both parties. A leader will describe their responsibilities and what they will ensure will happen for the employee and in return, they will also annotate what is expected of the employee. These standards of conduct are often listed in a company handbook and available however more often than not, these standards are communicated orally. All employees should be held accountable to these standards with an effective leader.
If an employee is not within the standards, good or bad, something should be done about it. This is referred to as reward and punishment. If an employee does something well beyond what is expected of them, they will receive a reward. The opposite is also true should they do something that is against company policy. There are many competing ideas on the use of reward and punishment, the fact of the matter is, is that it is used daily all around the world. These often stem on five factors of their use of who, what, where, when and why. The basic determination of who should receive a reward or punishment depends on what they specifically did and how it affected the company. It also has the possibility of coming in two forms, tangible and intangible.
Rewards are for some people an important motivator when it comes to working for specific organizations. Employees often enjoy meeting the standard and going beyond it, therefore receiving the appropriate recognition. This is a great feeling and it shows that the leadership is paying attention to their efforts. The two forms of recognition, tangible and intangible are also important to consider when rewarding someone based on the effort or contribution. If an...

Loading: Checking Spelling

0%

Read more

Punishment as a form of behaviour modification

2326 words - 9 pages Introduction Punishment is a process through which “the consequence of a response decreases the likelihood that the response will recur” (Gray, 2002, pp.115). Further, punishment can be seen as an effort to decrease the response rate to stimuli by either removing a desired stimulus or presenting one which is undesired (Gray, 2002). Recent studies suggest that punishment can be an effective method of behaviour modification. However, as reported...

Social Exchange Theory Essay

1777 words - 7 pages Social Exchange Theory (SET), a theory based around basic economic principles, evaluation of relationships; consisting of four measures and has been argued whether or not it’s even a theory at all. Richard M. Emerson, a former theorist suggests that SET is “a frame of references within which many theories –some micro and some macro–can speak to one another, whether in argument or mutual support” (Emerson, 1976, p. 336). SET is based on how humans...

Justification for Punishment

1493 words - 6 pages Justifications for punishment and imprisonment have followed many courses over the preceding centuries. Most people have held the view that prison is an acceptable institution. The difficulty is with the justification of punishment; moral philosophers have given various arguments for it (Tomasic & Dobinson, 1979, p 17). When and why should we punish? Though easy to state, this question is difficult to answer. Numerous philosophers have...

Learning

576 words - 2 pages Learning: what is punishment and does it really work? Abstract This article makes an attempt to research an influence of the negative stimuli on the outcome of learning. Learning can be describes, as a process of creating desired behavioural patterns and suppressing undesired patterns. Because of the nature of the topic most experimental data are available from researches that used simpler organisms such as rats and mouses when it would be...

Punishment and Retaliation

1544 words - 6 pages Retaliation and punishment are some of the core themes involved in researching acts of violence among ancient cultures. In these cultures the killing of a family member by an individual may result in either the killing of the original murderer or the killing of one of their family members in retaliation. Often, this is deemed as a justified reaction. Even today the punishing of someone due to wrongdoing is often believed to be justified. The...

The Death Penalty Preserves Human Dignity

2503 words - 10 pages America’s million dollar question is should capital punishment be allowed? Americans have been blindsided with decisions about the death penalty; in the past many have agreed with the punishment due to lack of knowledge on the issue. Today, information on capital punishment is everywhere. I agreed with most of America on the issue; it should be allowed because of its many beneficial reasons. I believe in “just desert,” that is criminals should...

Discipline in Childhood

1093 words - 4 pages Discipline in Childhood Children require freedom to grow and to learn, but they will not thrive on unlimited freedom. The aim of discipline is to set reasonable limits which protect children from harm and teach them what is safe and what is not. If children are to grow up into responsible, conscientious, and dependable adults, they must learn the social, moral, and ethical standards that are considered acceptable in our...

Promoting Resilience Among Parents

1137 words - 5 pages In many ethnic groups there tends to be some differences in the way parents punish their children. The reason why some parents may punish their children differently is that the parent’s upbringing, the culture they were raised in, persuaded their disciplinary structure. According to Paul B. Batles in our child psychology book (2013), development is influenced by historical and cultural contexts. A parent’s cultural background influencing the way...

Operant Conditioning and Parenting Practices between Hispanics and North Americans

1542 words - 6 pages There were two families at the park with their kids. One family was Hispanic and the other family was American. The kids where out on the playground, and they started fighting. The Hispanic mother grabbed her child and spanked him. While the American mother grabbed her child and explains to him why the situation was wrong and took away the toy that he had. These mothers use operant conditioning to discipline their children. Both mother use...

The Intrinsic Rewards of a Job and beign a Student.

2027 words - 8 pages What is intrinsic reward? Intrinsic rewards are psychological rewards that we get from doing meaningful work and performing it well whether in studies or job. It’s actually a type of motivation. There also extrinsic reward. Extrinsic rewards usually financial and tangible. This reward given by manager to employee such as pay raises bonuses and other benefits. It been called “extrinsic reward” because it was external to the work itself and other...

How the Use of Corporal Punishment can Affect a Child

1748 words - 7 pages Corporal punishment is a method used to discipline someone by using physical force to inflict pain. Many parents are guilty of using physical force to discipline their children at least once in a child’s lifetime. Sometimes parents can get so caught up in being angry with the child that all they can think about is hitting the child to get the child to listen to them. This, however, may not be the best way to discipline a child. This essay...

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *