Date of Award

8-2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Robert L. Williams

Committee Members

Christopher H. Skinner, Sherry K. Bain, Sandra L. Twardosz

Abstract

Researchers have repeatedly found that performance-contingent and task-contingent rewards can be used to increase both math accuracy and completion rates. However, researchers have not directly compared the differential effects of these two types of reward contingencies. Although researchers have examined the differential effects of performance-contingent and task-contingent rewards on intrinsic motivation to perform an activity, this research has consistently focused on the dependent measures of self-reported interest and free-choice participation. To this point, researchers have not thoroughly investigated the differential effects of performance- and task completion-contingent rewards on academic accuracy when these contingencies are in place and after teachers remove them. Researchers also have failed to examine the differential effects of meeting or failing to meet a reward contingency on academic accuracy.

To address the gaps in the past research on performance-contingent and task-contingent rewards, this study investigated the effects of different types of reward contingencies on both academic performance and interest in math. Specifically, the study attempted to answer the following questions: What are the differential effects of performance-contingent, completion-contingent, and no reward conditions on math performance when the experimental conditions are in place, in a mandatory follow-up phase, and in a choice follow-up phase? What are the differential effects of earning a reward versus failing to earn a reward on subsequent academic performance within the framework of a completion or performance contingency? What are the differential effects of receiving a reward versus no reward for high academic performance on subsequent

performance under a choice follow-up condition?

Students from three 4th grade classrooms and four 5th grade classrooms served as participants. Over the course of three school days, all students were exposed to three experimental conditions including performance-contingent reward, completion-contingent reward, and no reward. The order of the presentation of conditions was counterbalanced and randomly assigned to the seven participating classrooms. In each of the three experimental conditions, students were given feedback regarding the accuracy of their responding.

The day before experimental procedures began, students completed a pretest of math performance (i.e., an assignment of math problems) and of self-reported interest in math (i.e., a short Likert-scale questionnaire). On each of the three experimental days, the primary researcher distributed math assignments to students in each class and informed them of the presence or absence of reward contingencies in place that day. Assignments were comprised of problems appropriate for the grade level. The fourth grade classrooms were presented with 30 two-digit by two-digit subtraction problems, each involving borrowing. The fifth grade classrooms were presented with 50 two-digit by one-digit multiplication problems.

The researcher told students under the performance-contingent condition that they would earn 10 bonus points towards their math grade for answering 75% or more of the problems correctly (22 or more problems for 4th graders and 37 or more problems for 5th graders), five bonus points for answering between 50-74% of the problems correctly (15-21 problems for 4th graders and 25-36 problems for 5th graders), and zero bonus points for answering less than 50% of the problems correctly (0-14 problems for 4th graders and 0-24 problems for 5th graders). The researcher told students under the completion-contingent condition that they could earn 10 bonus points towards their math grade for answering 75% or more of the problems, five bonus points for answering between 50-74% of the problems, and zero bonus points for answering less than 50% of the problems. The researcher informed students under the control condition that no rewards were available for their math performance.

After permitting students to work on the assignments for 10 minutes, the researcher collected the assignments, took five minutes to score them with the help of the classroom teacher and a graduate student, and handed students back their assignments with feedback and the number of points earned written on the assignment according to the contingency in place for the class that day. Before collecting the corrected assignments, the researcher asked students to write either yes or no on the bottom of their assignment in response to the question, “Were you successful at this activity?”

The researcher then assigned students another 10-minute assignment similar to the one they had just completed, explaining that no rewards were available for doing the assignment. Finally, the researcher presented students with a continuous choice two-page assignment. One page contained math problems similar to the problems completed on previous assignments. The other page contained a word search. Students were instructed to place the two assignments side by side on their desk. They were told to work on whatever part of the assignments they would like for ten minutes. On the first day of experimental procedures only, students again completed the Likert-scale questionnaire assessing interest in math as a posttest measure.

Results showed that both performance-contingent and completion-contingent

rewards led to higher accuracy and completion rates than the no reward control condition.

However, the two contingency conditions did not differ in their effects on math performance. Once these contingencies were removed, there were no significant differences between conditions with respect to student performance on the mandatory follow-up assignment. The reward contingencies did appear to differentially affect performance on the choice follow-up assignment, particularly for high-achieving students. More participants chose to engage in the choice assignment and had higher accuracy and completion rates on the choice assignment following the control condition than either of the reward contingency conditions.

In addition, students who earned the maximum amount of bonus points under the reward contingencies and students who would have earned the maximum amount of bonus points on the control day, had a contingency been in place, both had significantly higher accuracy and completion rates on the choice assignment than participants who earned or would have earned a smaller number of points under the contingency and control conditions. Also, the choice follow-up performance of the high performers after the contingency conditions was directly compared with that of the high performers after the control condition. High performers did significantly better on choice follow-up performance following the control condition than they did following the contingency conditions, with the former almost doubling the performance of the latter on both accuracy and completion in the choice follow-up phase.

Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings, limitations of the study, and ideas for future research. Particular emphasis is given to the implications of the findings regarding the overjustification effect. In general, the pattern of results suggested an overjustification effect for the reward contingencies.

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