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Pleasure Derived from Challenge and the Effects of Receiving Grades on Children's Difficulty Level Choices

Susan Harter
Child Development
Vol. 49, No. 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 788-799
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1128249
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1128249
Page Count: 12
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Pleasure Derived from Challenge and the Effects of Receiving Grades on Children's Difficulty Level Choices
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Abstract

In order to examine the hypothesis that children derive maximum pleasure from optimally challenging tasks, sixth graders were given anagram problems at 4 difficulty levels. The results suggested that a curvilinear model may best describe the relationship between pleasure and task difficulty for correctly solved items where the subject has no choice of the problems to be solved. Active choice of optimally challenging items was also assessed in a second phase of the study, where half of the subjects were instructed that the task was a game and half were instructed that it was a school-type task for which they would receive letter grades. Under the game condition children chose and verbalized their preference for optimally challenging problems. Those children working for grades chose significantly easier anagrams to perform. Not only did the latter subjects respond below their optimal level, but they manifested less pleasure and verbalized more anxiety. The findings are discussed in terms of the need to refine existing models of the relationship between task difficulty and pleasure as well as to consider the effects which such extrinsic motivators as grades may have on attenuating intrinsic motivation.

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