Using praise to promote students' intrinsic motivation and performance attributions in classroom settings

Date of Completion

January 2004


Education, Elementary|Education, Educational Psychology




Understanding how to motivate students in the classroom continues to be one of the most important unresolved issues in education. Recent studies have demonstrated that praise for academic performance can affect students' motivation, and lead them to attribute their performance to external or internal causes. Previous research in this area of educational psychology has primarily focused on the effects of praise in controlled settings. The central aim of the current research, however, was to examine how various praise conditions affect students' intrinsic motivation and performance attribution within a classroom environment. Data were collected to determine whether certain types of praise led to adaptive or maladaptive attributions for task performance, and to increased or decreased levels of interest and motivation. ^ One hundred and twenty-one 4th and 5th grade students from suburban public schools in New York and New Jersey participated in this study. Subjects were assigned to one of three condition groups (absence of praise, effort-focused praise, and ability-focused praise). Baseline data, including measures of academic competency and scores on two questionnaires were collected from all participants prior to the experimental session. During the experimental session, participants in the various experimental groups engaged in a puzzle task while receiving feedback from their teachers. Immediately following the intervention methods, all subjects completed two questionnaires assessing their performance attributions and intrinsic motivation. ^ Multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was used to test the research hypotheses, with group and gender serving as the independent variables and attribution style and intrinsic motivation serving as the dependent variables. Baseline measures of attribution style, intrinsic motivation, and students' academic competency scores served as covariates in the study. Results indicated a significant difference among groups on the attribution variable, but not on the intrinsic motivation variable. Post hoc analyses revealed the significance was due to differences between the follow up scores of the ability-focused praise group and the effort-focused praise group. Possible explanations of the results, limitations to the study, as well as implications for further research are discussed. ^