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What Motivates You...Yourself or...?

Much has been written about the motivation of students...the use of intrinsic rewards vs. the use of extrinsic rewards. What motivates you to try to solve a mathematics problem?

Edward Deci, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, has investigated this dilemma with some surprising results. His primary conclusion: if we offer someone a contingent reward (i.e. if you do this, you will get this...) for completing a task they find interesting, they become less interested in it.

For example, Deci first observed people who enjoyed solving difficult puzzles for fun. Then, he offered them money for successfully solving these puzzles. The result: the people no longer wanted to explore the puzzles during their free time. That is, their intrinsic motivation was decreased by an extrinsic reward.

In light of this research, consider the implications for teaching mathematics or motivating students to learn mathematics. And, do grades act as conditional extrinsic rewards?

I am not sure where I come down on this...as no one has ever offered to pay me to successfully solve a problem. Wait? I take that back. For the past 40 years, I have been paid to be a mathematics teacher, which means to try to solve the problem of how to get students to learn quality mathematics. Luckily, my motivation has not yet waned....

Source: WIRED, June 2010, p. 132