The disadvantages of extrinsic motivation

Written by gabriel burns
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The disadvantages of extrinsic motivation
Extrinsic motivation has a downside. (schulanfang image by pdesign from

Extrinsic motivation can be defined as any type of system proposed with the intent of rewarding some type of behaviour. Extrinsic motivation can cause detrimental effects on student achievement and closing the achievement gap. Authors of "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Roland Benabou and Jean Tirole, state "contingent rewards serve as positive reinforces for a desired behaviour." Many educators use extrinsic motivation as a means for defining "good or appropriate" behaviour within the immediate learning environment--including as a reward when bad behaviour is corrected. Some examples of these rewards could be in the form of candy and food, extra break time, verbal praise, bonus points and money.

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Habitual Wrongs

Many students will take advantage of the reward system. Students will tend to intentionally commit wrongful acts just to receive the reward that is offered when they correct this behaviour. This effort gives the instructor a false sense of success. The student is fully aware of his own actions. However, he will commit the offence just to have some issue he can solve to get the reward.

Fair and Unfair Practices

In a normal class size, there will always be one or two students who display negative actions and corrective action becomes necessary. When a student is placed on a coercive action plan in such a way that requires a reward system, the remaining students become aware of the situation.

Once the disruptive student begins to learn and act appropriately, they will receive rewards for their individual work in the learning environment. At this time, the remaining students tend to have a negative reaction. The reaction is primarily caused by the fact that the students who are in need of correction receive rewards, while the students who are behaving well receive nothing in return for their good behaviour. This action has a tendency to remove the good nature and morals from the remaining students, thus replacing their behaviour with negative actions.

Rewarding Bad Behavior

Students who receive reward plans for correcting bad behaviour tend to get confused as to why they are receiving such rewards. Many students on these reward plans feel as though their negative behaviour is what delivers a reward. At this point, the student feels as if this defines him as a person within the normal learning environment. Any deviation from this personality trait would defy the characteristics of his identity, thus removing him from his comfort zone within the classroom. The reward system simply promotes the behaviour of this type of student.


Extrinsic motivation can be beneficial, at least short-term, when properly implemented within the normal learning environment. It is important to remember that the effects of extrinsic motivation, without using the coercive practice of extinction, are only temporary in nature. The student will generally change the sporatic behaviour and traits therein until the reward period is over. Generally, the student will diverge his personality trait back to its initial status.

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