"This is a remarkable study that presents evidence
against the use of rewards. Subjects were third
graders, classified as “average” readers. All children
were asked to read about 250 words of a storybook,
written one year below their reading level, and were
told that the experimenter wanted their opinion of the
book (design similar to McLoyd, 1979). The
experimenter told them a little about the available
books and the students choose what they wanted to
After the reading, the experimenter told the child
that they had some free time and could stay in the
same room for a few minutes. The available activities
were reading more, doing a math game, or a jigsaw
The basic conditions were: children were offered a
reward of a book for doing the activity, a “token”
(e.g. friendship bracelet, Nerf ball, key chain, Pez
dispenser), or no reward. (I am simplifying a bit;
Some children were given a choice of what book or
token, some not. This had no effect on the results. I
present here the results only for groups given a
The investigator observed their behavior for these few
minutes and noted whether the children selected
reading or a token as their first choice, how many
minutes they spent reading (some children who selected
a token at first did some reading later) and how many
words they read.
The results: Children given a reward of a book or no
reward overwhelmingly choose a book as their first
activity (13/15 of the book group, 11/15 of the no
reward group). Only two out of 15 of token-reward
group choose a book.
Those in the book-reward and no reward groups also
spent much more time reading, and read far more words.
An important point is that all the children liked to
read: At the end of the study all children were asked,
"If your best friend asked you what was the best or
most fun thing to do in this room, what would you tell
them?" All participants agreed that reading was the
“most fun” activity in the room.
Using books as a reward did no harm: Apparently,
using books sends the message that reading is a
worthwhile thing to do. But using tokens as rewards
had a profoundly negative effect. These results agree
with those of McLoyd (1979)."
THE EFFECTS OF REWARD PROXIMITY AND CHOICE OF REWARD
ON THE READING MOTIVATION OF THIRD-GRADE STUDENTS.
Barbara Ann Marinak, 2004, dissertation, University of
McLoyd, V. (1979). The effects of extrinsic rewards of
differential value on high and low
intrinsic interest. Child Development, 50, 636-644.
THANKS TO STEPHEN KRASHEN FOR THIS REPORT