Reward contingency and intrinsic motivation in children: A test of the delay of gratification hypothesis

Michael Ross*, Rachel Karniol, Mitch Rothstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tested a delay of gratification interpretation of the decrease in intrinsic motivation produced by expected, task-contingent rewards. In the task-contingent reward condition, 12 1st-3rd graders received an anticipated reward explicitly for undertaking the target activity in the E's absence. In the wait-contingent reward condition, 12 Ss received the same reward for awaiting the E's return rather than performing the interpolated activity. In the no-reward control condition, 12 Ss were neither promised nor given a reward. Intrinsic interest in the target activity was assessed during a subsequent free-play period. Contrary to the delay of gratification interpretation, Ss in the wait-contingent reward condition displayed significantly more interest in the activity than did Ss in the task-contingent reward condition. An individual difference measure of ability to delay gratification was not associated with intrinsic interest. Data are consistent with an attributional analysis of intrinsic motivation. (16 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-447
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1976


  • task- vs wait-contingent reward conditions, intrinsic motivation, 1st-3rd graders, test of delay of gratification hypothesis


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