Motivation is a vast and complicated subject encompassing many theories. Some theories developed through work with animals in laboratories. Others are based on research with humans in situations that used games or puzzles. Some theories grow out of the work done in clinical or industrial psychology. Our examination of the field will be selective; otherwise we would never finish the topic.


According to the behavioral view, an understanding of student motivation begins with a careful analysis of the incentives and rewards present in the classroom. A reward is an attractive object or event supplied as a consequence of a particular behavior. For example, Safe Sarah was rewarded with bonus points when she drew an excellent diagram. An incentive is an object or event that encourages or discourages behavior. The promise of an A was an incentive to Sarah. Actually receiving the grade was a reward.

If we are consistently reinforced for certain behaviors, we may develop habits or tendencies to act in certain ways. For example, if a student is repeatedly rewarded with affection, money, praise, or privileges for earning letters in baseball, but receives little recognition for studying, the student will probably work longer and harder on perfecting her fastball than on understanding geometry. Providing grades, stars, stickers, and other reinforcements for learning or demerits for misbehavior is an attempt to motivate students by extrinsic means of incentives, rewards, and punishments.

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