Extrinsic Motivations: when the Ends Trump the Means.

Why are we fulfilling our roles at this moment? Society answers that we are going to be rewarded with money, social status, security, and [input what you want here]. It claims that these things make you happier while performing your tasks. These things are supposed to act as your motivators. Well, you might want to think again.

  A series of psychological studies have shown that you are less intrinsically motivated and lose your interests (happiness) for the sake of the task. Children who are rewarded to draw are less likely to enjoy drawing outside of their class. They lose their interests in the task. This doesn’t just generalize and replicate only to young children. When a group of creative writers at Braindeis and at Boston University were asked to write poetry, they were given either extrinsic reasons or intrinsic reasons to write. The works of students given extrinsic reasons were less creatively and significantly less qualitative compared to the works of students given intrinsic motivations.

Where does this leave us? Yes, grades are important in schooling to assess students’ readiness in relation to one another’s. However, is it really a necessity? Emile Rousseau and John Dewey both agree that freedom of education is important for one’s education, but there needs to be some sorts of regulation and guiding from society. How much of guiding and regulation do they need? Does it mean as much as John Gatto’s Seven School Lessons that teach students how to conform to society in order to get their rewards? That is basically teaching them how to treasure extrinsic motivations and be depressed to study. I understand that extrinsic motivations are important for us to start working because we are somewhat a bunch of materialistic people. Thus, you should think about what it means to be truly happy and find your intrinsic motivations. Your happiness is not about the ends, but how much you enjoy the means. However, I Kant deny that there are many people (probably Machiavelli’s descendants) who perform deeds for the ends rather than the means.

6 responses to “Extrinsic Motivations: when the Ends Trump the Means.

  1. I think you make an interesting point about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and how extrinsic motivation is a less productive form of motivation, but I am not sure how you plan to incorporate intrinsic motivation into the classroom. While I agree that it can lead to better products and more creativity, without someway of grading the product it is very difficult to determine which one is better than the other. I think grades or at least some sort of grading scale will for ever be necessary as a means of assessing progress. Absent a grading system and a goal to work towards I think 1.) many people would quit trying at a lot of different tasks and 2.) they don’t get a reward for their work and superiors will not have a way to determine who gets rewarded more than others. While I think this idea of having students simply be intrinsically motivated is sound in logic, I think it is extremely difficult to implement. Maybe you have an idea on how to implement this idea?

  2. I think that the system has the potential to eliminate one’s intrinsic motivation. I completely agree with Harry when he says that it is impossible to incorporate intrinsic motivation in the curriculum. And a system absent of grades will lead to wide spread indifference. However, people can be intrinsically motivated to perform in either mathematics or dance. But, there is a different emphasis that is placed on the two. Mathematics is seen as important, while dance is seen as a more menial task when it should not be. Due to the difference of weight placed on the two subjects, one may start to believe that what they are intrinsically motivated to do is meaningless. As a result, this may diminish the resolve to do this task.

  3. Personally, I’m kind of torn on whether I believe in extrinsic motivations (grades, rewards…ect) or not. For subjects that I have such a high interest in like real estate, psychology and other buisness-type classes, I do not need grades or rewards to motivate me. I simply enjoy the work and learning of these particular studies, so in turn I think it would be more approriate to maybe recieve assessment reports on how well my understanding is of such subjects rather than grades (which can sometimes be unmotivating if they are poor). In turn, with classes that serve me no interest like math and sciences, I kind of see grades as a motivating factor because some of these classes are required and I don’t exactly care about my understanding of these subjects rather than just the grade to look good on my transcript. So its a complicated question whether these extrinsic rewards should exist. If we think about after college… there aren’t any grades, but there still are assessments and rewards like money.. and sometimes the amount of money you get is the assessment (on how well or how poorly you did).

  4. Hey Dinh! Loved the pun you put at the end there. I have definitely had experiences with the external/internal motivation struggle, but I think that sometimes external motivations are necessary to give people a push to get them to start doing something. I may start off extrinsically motivated to read a book because it’s required for a class. However it’s hard to say that I won’t start to read the book just because I want to gain knowledge about the subject. I think at time extrinsic motivation helped me try new things that I ended up liking, so I do think that extrinsic motivation is beneficial. That being said, I see where you’re coming from with the trend of decreased quality with extrinsic motivation. Perhaps that’s just a way to let us know what we really care about and what we don’t.

  5. Personally, I believe that grades are a necessary function in our education. Not so much as a motivator(although that’s what it has been come to be associated as), but more as a gauge for those who cannot see the intrinsic motivation within each individual. I believe that having a personal interest in anything makes you able to perform well in the situation/environment, classroom or otherwise.

  6. All of you brought up interesting points about how grade must be there in order for some people to be motivated. However, Jordan is a testimony that the absence of grades is not that big of a factor to her education because she went to a college without grades. Perhaps, just perhaps, instead of rewarding for completion, we should punish for not exposing one’s self to new things. This option will let many young children be exposed to a variety of things, thus, enabling one to discover his/her passion faster. For example, you can force young kids to listen to some mathematics concepts and punish them by taking away their candies. Those who love math will eventually stay behind and look for deeper understanding of the subject.

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