Yay!!! After reading Bronson & Merryman’s thought-provoking article on praise, I really wanted to know about the connection between praise and motivation. So I was excited to find a partial answer in a fascinating post on Bronson and Merryman’s blog (to find the post, scroll down and look for the title “How Not to Talk To Your Kids – Part 2”):
… University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan…have argued that motivation can be divided into two types – intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is when you do something just because you love it – for the sheer joy and satisfaction of the experience. Extrinsic motivation is when you do something for a reward that comes from someone or something else than yourself.
And while we wouldn’t necessarily think of praise as an external reward, if brain chemistry’s any indication, it’s perceived as being closer to a tangible reward than we might initially consider. Praise then walks a fine-line, then with rewards and their positive and negative consequences on motivation. Research has shown that praise may increase adults’ intrinsic motivation, but only if the praise is infrequent and genuine. Praise that is controlling or too frequent seems to become an external reward. And the problem with that is that external rewards are so ephemeral, and inherently out of one’s control, that those motivated by external rewards become more competitive and more image-driven.
For children, there seems to be some consensus that tangible rewards are destructive for children’s intrinsic motivation. (All those read-a-book, get-a-pizza-party programs may be killing a generation’s love of reading for pleasure.) But the effects of praise on intrinsic motivation seem less clear.
So it seems that the key to make sure that praise doesn’t damage intrinsic motivation is to use it only infrequently and sincerely.
A personal reflection … I was the queen of Pizza Hut’s book-it reading program and it definitely didn’t kill my intrinsic motivation to read. Maybe the dopa/reward I got from reading was so much deeper and stronger than the dopa/reward I got from eating my personal pan pizza hut pizza (with sausage) that my dopa circuits remained strong and intact. ???? Or maybe I am just a weirdo.