- Denebola - http://www.denebolaonline.net -

Leaving rewards behind: Priceless

Posted By Denebola On March 19, 2008 @ 7:36 pm In Editorials and Opinions | Comments Disabled

By Alice Lee

What would motivate someone to eat a radish? There are two possibilities.
One is an extrinsic motivation – encouragement from external factors, such as a potential reward or a threat of punishment. Imagine the Average Joe in the cafeteria. If he knows that the National Radish Association of America will send him twenty dollars for every radish he eats, he will gladly partake of one.
The other possibility is an intrinsic motivation, or an internal intent uninfluenced by outside factors. Think now of Scarlett O’Hara, heroine of novel-turned-movie Gone With the Wind. Embittered and left destitute by the Civil War, she vows never to go hungry again. Fueled by this thought as well as her empty stomach, she willingly chokes down a radish.
But what do (nonexistent) Radish Associations and Scarlett O’Hara have to do with us?
Well, a 1998 study by Notre Dame professor Michael Pressley discovered that among students, there is a prevalence of extrinsic motivation; every interviewed student named his or her top priority as getting good grades in school. This focus on rewards, as opposed to personal fulfillment, has negative effects.
External motivators always come with conditions: it must be submitted in time, within this genre; it must be this long, this good. Fail to meet these conditions and the whole endeavor becomes a flat-out failure, with no reward and, usually, no chance to try again.
Combined with the universal human desire for respect and attention, a strong pressure to succeed emerges. And with this pressure comes the stress dear to many a Newton South heart. Students know first-hand that stress causes physical and mental decay and that it discourages us from trying similar experiences in the future. Once Average Joe gets his twenty bucks, he probably won’t want to try other uncommon vegetables anytime soon – unless there’s more money involved.
Pressure comes from intrinsic motivations as well; however, being self-induced, these have a measure of flexibility. They have no definite consequences of failure, and therefore more incentive to keep trying. Scarlett O’Hara keeps working at her goal never to be hungry again, even though she coughs up that first radish. For her, the opportunity to improve and make future efforts remains open.
The future is not the only thing sacrificed for extrinsic motivations. In a 1998 Brandeis University experiment, some students were given extrinsic motivations (getting into grad school, for example) for writing poetry. Others were given intrinsic ones (such as the pleasure of self-expression) for the same task. The experiment resulted in the extrinsically motivated students writing poems of considerably less academic quality and creativity.
Thus, not only does extrinsic motivation put a limit on our future growth, it also undermines our present growth. For our personal expansion, we need to take our eyes off the twenty bucks and start tasting the radish.
But look again at Gone With the Wind. With time, Scarlett O’Hara’s determination to rebuild her life evolves into excessive intrinsic interest and soon she alienates everyone around her  – even her own children – with her egotism and ambition.
But a happy ending prevails. Our heroine finally discovers how to follow her internal aspirations without losing herself in them; she learns to acknowledge what is outside of herself without letting it dominate her life. And then – she finally finds true love.
This balance could lead to unearthing possibilities in ourselves, just like Scarlett. We could shake off our stress, push our boundaries, realize unknown potential, and find a real sense of fulfillment. It’s all about eating your radish, even without twenty dollars.

Read more

Article printed from Denebola: http://www.denebolaonline.net

URL to article: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/03/19/leaving-rewards-behind-priceless/

URLs in this post:

[1] Committee fights student stress: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/04/06/committee-fights-student-stress/

[2] Keep Wellness to manage stress: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/05/13/keep-wellness-to-manage-stress/

[3] How does South compare?: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/04/14/how-does-south-compare/

[4] Make breakfast your lucky charm: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2007/11/21/make-breakfast-your-lucky-charm/

[5] Just how rounded is too “well rounded”?: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/just-how-rounded-is-too-well-rounded/

Copyright © Denebola - The Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School