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Reward, Task Motivation, Creativity and Teaching: Towards a Cross-cultural Examination


by Beth A. Hennessey — 2015

Background: Extrinsic incentives and constraints, such as the promise of a reward or the expectation of an evaluation, have long been used by educators to motivate students. Previous research has consistently found that expected reward consistently undermines intrinsic task motivation and creativity of products and performance in students of all ages. For a majority of learners, the promise of a reward made contingent on engagement in an open-ended task frequently serves to undermine intrinsic task motivation and qualitative aspects of performance, including creativity.

Purpose: The implications of these experimental findings for education in the U.S. and around the world are immense. Teachers contemplating the use of reward incentives must avoid them in situations where creativity is at stake. This article explores whether the motivational and performance processes triggered by the promise of a reward are a universal phenomenon or whether they are, at least in part, culturally-dependent.

Research Design: Five parallel studies in five separate nations focused on elementary school students who had been randomly assigned to experimental (constraint) and control (no constraint) conditions. The complexities of the relation between task motivation and performance outcomes are reviewed and cross-cultural implications are explored.

Conclusions: While there is no consensus on the impact of extrinsic constraints across cultures, there is no evidence to suggest that intrinsic motivation is anything but a powerful and positive driving force for students of all ages and backgrounds—teachers are best advised to work to increase the intrinsic motivation and creativity of their students on a case-by-case basis until we understand more.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 10, 2015, p. 1-28
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18099, Date Accessed: 9/25/2017 6:23:08 PM

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About the Author
  • Beth Hennessey
    Wellesley College
    E-mail Author
    BETH A. HENNESSEY received her PhD in Social/Developmental Psychology from Brandeis University in 1986. Before pursuing graduate study, Beth taught for three years at the elementary school level. She has been a member of the Wellesley College Psychology Department since 1985. She served as the Faculty Director of Wellesley’s Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center from 2007-2011. Beth has carried out numerous studies showing a powerful link between intrinsic task motivation and creativity of performance. At present, Beth is involved with a number of international investigations of this phenomenon, and she is also working with the LEGO corporation to better understand the connection between creativity and play across cultures.
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