Incentive Theory (IT) is rooted in B.F. Skinner’s study of behaviorism (Berridge, 2000) and motivation. If actions are seen as positive, people are more likely to act in that manner, if actions are seen as negative, then they will be less likely to repeat that action (Rani & Lenka, 2012). IT emerged as a direct result of the study of drive theory in the 1940s and 1950s (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2010). The use of incentives has been used as a strategy to increase motivation at work (Korman, Glickman, & Frey, 1981). The theory states that if the targeted recipient is offered a reward – one with meaning to them – then they will alter their behavior to achieve that specific reward (Korman et al., 1981). Important to IT is the understanding that the offered reward has positive value for the recipient (Rani & Lenka, 2012).
IT is most effective when the reward is given with the shortest delay possible. The larger the reward, the longer the reward can be delayed after the action and still have an impact on behavior for the targeted recipient (Killeen, 1985). If the incentive is too large, then the recipient may possibly begin to distrust the institution, or perceive threats to their freedom and feel angry (Korman et al., 1981). IT shows that if an action-reward loop occurs frequently enough, it can cause the action by the targeted recipient to become a habit (Rani & Lenka, 2012). Hockenbury and Hockenbury (2010) state that behavior by the recipient can be motivated by reaching external goals such as “rewards, money, or recognition” (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2010, p. 321)
This study will investigate the effectiveness of gamification in the classroom. Gamification is the process of building game-like mechanics into the fabric of the classroom culture. When playing games, “gamers” are rewarded with badges, leaderboards, level-ups, and experience points. By infusing the classroom with game-like mechanics, the teacher is trying to encourage student behavior in a fashion that will build deeper meaning from course material. IT is part of this process – in gamification, teachers reward students for performing desired behaviors or action. In a gamified classroom, teachers use IT to reward students for completing homework, passing a quiz, turning in a project, or completing a self-directed study. IT theory holds that if teachers offer the appropriate reward quickly enough, then the students actions become a learned habit (Rani & Lenka, 2012).
Berridge, K. C. (2000). Reward learning: Reinforcement, incentives, and expectations. Psychology of learning and motivation, 40, 223-278.
Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2010). Discovering psychology: Macmillan.
Killeen, P. R. (1985). Incentive theory: IV. Magnitude of reward. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 43(3), 407-417.
Korman, A. K., Glickman, A. S., & Frey, R. L. (1981). More Is Not Better – 2 Failures of Incentive Theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 66(2), 255-259.
Rani, R., & Lenka, S. K. (2012). Motivation and Work Motivation: Concepts, Theories, and Researches. International Journal of Research in IT & Management, 2(8), 14-22.