Friday, 5 July 2013

Do Rewards Crush Creative Thinking?

A couple of weeks ago Lulu sent me a very interesting video. Basically, the guy experimented with classes of kids. First he gave the kids a piece of paper with a triangle on it, he told them that if the completed the picture correctly they would get a reward (extra points I believe) but didn't tell them what the correct picture looked like. They were also given a full pack of pens and had the choice of which ever they liked.

I gave Ebi-kun this piece of paper, his reward, if he got it correct, would be a candy.

He pondered for a while on what the correct answer must be, then drew this.

Then, in the experiment, the kids were given another piece of paper with the same triangle on it but this time told they can draw whatever they like. There was no reward incentive. I did the same with Ebi-kun and this was the second drawing.....

Interesting! Even more so when you watch the video and see what the other kids in the experiment did....

That leads me back to the original question. Do rewards crush creative thinking? I believe they do, there is the argument that rewards are motivational but I am not convinced that they are, or should I say, maybe they are for some people but certainly not for all. I am including myself in the last group. 
I don't think the experiment was set up that well, not for proper scientific purposes but it does have an interesting conclusion that I think should be looked at more deeply.
I am interested to know what happens with your kids if you do this experiment, if you do it, please come back and let me know how it went!

So, what do you think? Do rewards crush creative thinking? let me know in the comments section below...


  1. I don't think it is the reward, it is the fact that they were told there is a "correct" answer. The statement itself places the limits.

    What if the extra points had been for the most creative drawing?

    1. good point, I think it is something that could do with more research.

  2. Ha, I was just going to write exactly what katrynka said!

  3. Ditto. I think the issue is more with standardized tests and evaluation

  4. I also agree with the issue of a "correct" drawing, but I think even without that statement any introduction of a reward implies a transactional relationship that doesn't foster creativity. If you are doing something for a reward, you feel pressure to comply with the "rewarder"'s tastes and expectations.

  5. I support the idea expressed in the books "Drive" and "Punished by Rewards". Rewards replace intrinsic motivation to create with extrinsic motivation. Something that used to bring joy simply as an activity becomes a rewards-based chore. I am not saying that all rewards are bad, but the experiment described above is skewed because two factors are changed at once - an expectation of a reward and an expectation of a "correct" answer.

  6. I tried this with my 8-year old son. First, I told him if he drew the picture correctly, he would receive a fruit snack. I also told him I was looking for creative work. He returned with a spider-web looking design. The next day, I repeated the activity without the offer of a fruit snack and also asked him to do draw a creative picture using the triangle. He came back with a similar drawing to the first day...albeit with some more detail. It is important to note that my son really does not enjoy drawing. He also attends a Montessori elementary school where there is no grading or testing. His concept of the 'correct' way to draw something might be influenced by both.

    1. interesting, I think for any proper conclusion it would have to be done a very large scale. So many variables.

  7. I think it is the use of the word 'correct' - it makes the child think about what the examiner might want, and that, in general, going by the goofy way adults have, is something 'realistic' or 'conventional'. It restricts, not because of the reward, but because children base their efforts on their predictions about the adult's expectations.


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