Effects of Rewards on Toddlers and Preschoolers: What Scientific Studies Reveal

Based on four reviewed studies, we suggest NOT using material rewards (such as gifts) to motivate toddlers and preschoolers. The findings of four studies on preschoolers all agreed that rewards had little effect on the intrinsic motivation of children whose motivation was initially low, and decreased it among children whose motivation was initially high.

Created on November 21 2015 at 08: 00 AM

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1: "A Meta-Analytic Review Of Experiments Examining The Effects Of Extrinsic Rewards On Intrinsic Motivation.," Psychological Bulletin, 1999, by EL Deci, R Koestner, RM Ryan. (Citations: 4165).

A meta-analysis of 128 studies examined the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. As predicted, engagement-contingent, completion-contingent, and performance-contingent rewards significantly undermined free-choice intrinsic motivation (d = –0.40, –0.36, and –0.28, respectively), as did all rewards, all tangible rewards, and all expected rewards. Engagement-contingent and completion-contingent rewards also significantly undermined self-reported interest (d = –0.15, and –0.17), as did all tangible rewards and all expected rewards. Positive feedback enhanced both free-choice behavior (d = 0.33) and self-reported interest (d = 0.31). Tangible rewards tended to be more detrimental for children than college students, and verbal rewards tended to be less enhancing for children than college students. The authors review 4 previous meta-analyses of this literature and detail how this study's methods, analyses, and results differed from the previous ones.

2: "Effects Of Extrinsic Rewards On Children'S Subsequent Intrinsic Interest," Child Development, 1974, by D Greene, MR Lepper. (Citations: 235).

Preschool children were asked, in individual sessions, to engage in an activity of high initial interest, either for its own sake or in order to obtain an extrinsic reward. Subsequently, children who had undertaken the target activity as a means to some ulterior end showed less intrinsic interest in this activity, as measured unobtrusively several weeks later in the children's classrooms, than control subjects who had either received the same reward unexpectedly or had engaged in the activity without expectation or receipt of extrinsic rewards.

3: "A Cognitive-Developmental Approach To The Effects Of Rewards On Intrinsic Motivation," Child Development, 1981, by FW Danner, E Lonky. (Citations: 150).

2 experiments were conducted to examine the relationships between cognitive level, intrinsic motivation, and responses to extrinsic rewards and praise. In experiment 1, 90 4-10-year-old children were divided into 3 cognitive ability groups on the basis of their performance on a battery of classification tasks. When allowed to choose among learning centers which differed in the level of understanding of classification required, all 3 cognitive ability groups spent the most time in the centers which were just beyond their initial ability levels, and they rated these centers as most interesting and moderately difficult. In experiment 2, the children received either rewards, praise, or no rewards for working in a learning center which was either at, above, or below their predicted levels of classification interest. Rewards had little effect on intrinsic motivation among children whose motivation was initially low and decreased it among children whose motivation was initially high. Praise also had mixed effects-highly motivated children with an internal locus of control increased in intrinsic motivation following praise, while highly motivated children with an external locus of control decreased in intrinsic motivation following praise. The implications of these results for the understanding of intrinsic motivation and for educational practice were discussed.

4: "The Effect Of External Reward On Interest And Quality Of Task Performance In Children Of High And Low Intrinsic Motivation," Child Development, 1979, by KK Loveland, JG Olley. (Citations: 101).

In order to clarify the conditions under which material rewards have a detrimental effect upon children's later interest in the rewarded task, the effect of a reward for drawing was measured with 24 preschool children. The children were grouped as high or low in initial interest on the basis of observation of time spent drawing, and half the children in each group were given an expected reward for drawing, while the other half received no reward. Time spent drawing and "quality" of drawing were measured 1 week and 7 weeks later. The high initial-interest children who received a reward lost interest when observed a week later, while the low-interest rewarded children gained interest. By 7 weeks both groups returned to their original levels. At the time of the reward, high-interest rewarded subjects drew more drawings, but of poorer quality, than did the unrewarded high-interest children. Low-interest children who were rewarded also drew more than their unrewarded counterparts, but quality was not affected.

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