Erb Faculty Director, Joe Arvai published in Human Performance

An unresolved debate lingers concerning the effect of performance-contingent rewards on motivation and performance. Behavioral psychology and economics suggest that performance-contingent rewards improve performance. In contrast, cognitive evaluation theory predicts that performance-contingent rewards undermine motivation and performance. Research involving the Erb Institute’s Joe Árvai and a colleague from the Universities of Colorado and Calgary discuss the predictions of these two streams and develop an experiment that resolves the limitations of previous studies by using a new measure of intrinsic motivation: Self-selection into a specific area of knowledge, as revealed by choice of academic major. Students from mathematics-related and literature-related areas were selected and randomly assigned to math and English language tests. Participants received a participation fee or a performance-contingent payment in addition to a fee. Both performance-contingent rewards and intrinsic motivation improved motivation and performance, in contrast with cognitive evaluation theory’s predictions.

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