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Extrinsic rewards can squelch creativity and high quality performance
From Larry Ferlazzo's Web Sites Of The Day blog on 03/04/19
"One early and well known experiment found that children who were promised a reward were less interested in creating art than those who did not get that promise (it’s cited in just about every motivation study you can find).
In this Freakonomics episode from last October, though, Teresa Amabile talks about a variation on this experiment that she organized. In it, students were told their artistic creations were going to be judged, and those children’s creations turned out to be much less creative than those from the control group.
She goes on to say:
I think that the biggest mistake we make in our schools, and I’m talking about everything from kindergarten now up through college, is to focus kids too much on how the work is going to be evaluated. Part of that is the extreme focus on testing in the United States right now and the past several years….
There’s too much focus on “what is the right answer, what are people going to think of what I’m about to say?” and too little focus on “what am I learning, what cool stuff do I know now that I didn’t know last week or a year ago, what cool things can I do now that I couldn’t do before?” And I think that if we could if we could switch that focus, we would do a lot to open up kids’ creativity.
In other words, teacher judgment itself, especially, I assume, if it’s handled poorly, has the potential of being as damaging to student creativity as any other kind of more explicit reward."
I noticed this phenomenon when teaching at a college level as an adjunct professor. When I asked students at our first class in the course they were taking what they wanted from the course, the immediate response was "An A." When I asked further, "Assume by virtue of the fact that you registered for this course you automatically get an A, now what would you like to learn and get out of it." Often students had difficulty answering this question.
Students have been well trained to adapt and accept the teacher's curriculum. Curiosity, creativity, motivation based on intrinsic rewards only created barriers to success in the course which is defined by the professor's grades. The effort, then, is to give the teacher what the teacher wants.
This phenomenon of being graded and grades dependent on compliance actually undermines human learning.