Several theories attempt to explain exactly why extrinsic motivation can have such a deleterious affect on motivation. Edward L. Deci’s Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) offers us one explanation of why controlling rewards seemingly have an undermining effect on intrinsic motivation. According to Deci, rewards can be interpreted by individuals as being either controllers of their behavior or as indicators of their competence. Examples of controlling rewards would include rewards that were contingent upon participation of an activity or offered conditionally upon completion of a task.

Controlling rewards such as these tend to decrease intrinsic motivation and Deci explains that this is because one of the factors underlying intrinsic motivation is the psychological need for autonomy. Controlling rewards cause a shift in an individual’s perceived locus of causality form internal to external which ultimately thwarts any satisfaction gained form being autonomous (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan 1999). In short, the more someone feels that he or she is in control, the more intrinsically motivated he or she will be, and vise versa.

Informational rewards are rewards that represent feedback to an individual regarding the competency of his or her performance. Examples of information rewards would include praise for a job well done or a certificate awarding someone for a success. As long as the informational rewards give positive feedback they tend to enhance intrinsic motivation. According to Deci et al. (1999) this is because another factor underlying intrinsic motivation is the psychological need for competence. When a reward is positively informational it provides satisfaction of this need for competence and thus proceeds to enhance intrinsic motivation.

In an attempt to test cognitive evaluation theory, Deci et al. performed a quasi experiment in which they hypothesized that children who had teachers with a controlling orientation would have less self-esteem and less intrinsic motivation that children who had teachers who were more supportive of autonomy. Their data supported their hypothesis concluding that rewards will tend to undermine intrinsic motivation and self-esteem when administered by someone with a controlling orientation, whereas they will tend to maintain intrinsic motivation and self-esteem when administered by someone who is autonomy oriented.

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Obviously in some cases rewards will have conflicting effects. Most will be to some extent both controlling and information with the two processes working against each other. In these cases other things must be taken into account when attempting to predict the effects of mixed rewards. Another theory that attempts to explain the effects of extrinsic rewards on motivation is Bem’s Self-Perception Theory(1967). Self-perception theory asserts that just as we infer someone’s attitudes or beliefs form their behavior, we infer our own attitudes or beliefs from our own behavior.

For Bem, our behavior does not follow our beliefs, rather our beliefs follow our interpretations of our own behavior. When we do infer someone’s attitudes or beliefs form their behavior, we take into account any stimuli that may be affecting their behavior. For example, Bem states: ” … an individual’s attitude statements may be viewed as inferences from observations of his own overt behavior and its accompanying stimulus variables. ” p. 186. In other words, if we perceive someone’s behavior as being controlled by some outside manipulation, we are less likely to believe the behavior to be representative of his or her true beliefs.

For example, I would be less likely to believe a super-model married a ninety-year-old man for love if he happened to be a millionaire. I would take into account the external stimuli of the money when making my judgment. It works in the same way when we make judgments about our own behavior: If I perceive my own behavior as being controlled by an outside manipulation, I am less likely to believe that my behavior is representative of my personal beliefs. On the other hand, if I engage in a behavior for no apparent reward, I will conclude that my actions were self-directed, thus leaving me free to infer my beliefs.

Self-perception theory purports that the more subtle the control or reward, the more the subject will attribute the action to his or her self thereby resulting in increased intrinsic motivation. In attempt to test self-perception theory Anronson and Carlsmith (1963) in which they had four-year-old children rank 5 toys according to preference and then forbade them from playing with whichever toy they had ranked as number two most favorable toy to play with.

In one condition a mild threat was given, and in the other condition, a more severe threat was given. None of the children disobeyed by playing with the forbidden toy when the experimenter was out of the room. However, when the children were asked to re-rank the toys according to preference the subjects in the mild-threat condition gave significantly lower final preference rankings to the toy that the children in the strong-threat condition.

These findings were consistent with self-perception theory and were interpreted in the following way: the children in the mild-threat condition were more likely to interpret their restraint form playing with the toy to their own preferences, whereas the children in the sever-threat condition realized their restraint due to an outside control and were not able to infer from their behavior that they did not prefer the toy in question (Bem, 1965, p.

208). One relevant implication to Self-perception theory is termed the “overjustification” hypothesis. According to Lepper et al. (1973), this is “the proposition that a person’s intrinsic interest in an activity may be undermined by inducing him to engage in the activity as an explicit means to some extrinsic goal.

If the external justification is provided to induce a person to engage in an activity is unnecessarily high and psychologically “oversufficient,” the person might come to infer that his actions were basically motivated by the external contingencies of the situation, rather than by an intrinsic interest in the activity itself. ” Basically, if someone is bribed to engage in activity, the person bribed will come to see the activity only as a means to the bribe and will cease to see anything inherently desirable about the activity in and of itself.

This would account for much of the data concerning rewards and motivation. Controlling rewards, those offered conditionally for participation in an activity, would undermine intrinsic motivation because the person being bribed would come to see the activity only as a means to the reward. An informational rewar4d given after the fact should not trigger the overjustification principle since the activity was never transformed from being and end in itself to being only a means to an ulterior end (the reward).


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