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Cash Incentives to get Children to do Homework Can Backfire, Study Reports

Update Date: Sep 19, 2013 11:03 AM EDT
Money, Children, Cash
Children who used cash were three times more likely to buy vegetables and consumed around 10 percent fewer calories.
(Photo : Flickr/ GoodNCrazy)

Money can persuade people to do a lot of things. Not only have movies played out the cash incentive theme, several studies have also found that cash can drive people to accomplish certain goals. For example, with the obesity epidemic at large, researchers have used a cash incentive to persuade people to lose weight. Even though money can appeal to certain people, it definitely does not appeal to all. In a new study, researchers found that using money incentives to get children to do their homework can backfire.

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For this study, the researchers, headed by Roland Fryer, an economist from Harvard University, examined the role of money for young children. The team analyzed children from over 200 urban schools from three cities. The children were randomly assigned to experiments that either rewarded them with money or nothing at all.

"The impact of financial incentives on student achievement is statistically zero in each city," Fryer concluded according to TIME.

The results revealed that using cash incentives did not increase children's grades, standardized test results, or any other measurements of academic performance. The researchers believe that using cash incentives to get kids to perform better in the academics could even cause problems with learning. They reasoned that since learning is inherently fun and rewarding, incorporating money could affect people's desire to learn.

In other studies, researchers have found that using rewards, ranging from monetary to materialistic ones, can lead to anxiety. These studies found that children who are used to being given incentives might get anxious while performing on a test, resulting in poor academic results. Furthermore, the incentives ruin a child's desire to learn, which can greatly affect the child's independent learning skills later on in life.

"All people need autonomy, or choice in their actions, competence, and relatedness to others in order to be intrinsically motivated and happy," Holley Schiffrin, a psychology professor from the University of Mary Washington commented. Schiffrin was not a part of this study.

The researchers and experts remind parents that there are other ways of getting children to do their homework. For example, parents can help instill an internal reward system in which children feel accomplished and successful when they do well on homework or tests. This type of internal system could also help motivate kids to help others in need. Another method that parents can do is to praise their children. Young kids like to feel proud of something they did and acknowledging the actions by praising children could also motivate them to perform better.

The study was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

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