- Evidence Snacks
- Stakes sweet spot
Stakes sweet spot
Perceived consequences & motivation
Ready for a break? Me too… after today, the next Snack you’ll read will be in 2024 😱 (although look out for a bonus festive message in the interim)…
Big idea 🍉
Somewhat related to rewards is concept of 'stakes'. Stakes refer to our perception of the magnitude of the consequences associated with an activity. As such, they are a form of 'extrinsic motivation'.
For example, end of school exams are often felt by students to be relatively 'high stakes'... due to their influence over future education and employment opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, stakes influence student attention and effort (and as a result, performance), but the relationship is not a simple linear one, and it is mediated by other variables.
Where students don't already have high intrinsic motivation… if the stakes of an activity are perceived to be to be too low or even non-existent (aka 'zero stakes'), then they are unlikely to put in much effort, and their learning and performance will suffer.
Conversely, if the stakes are perceived to be too high, there's a risk that students succumb to extreme emotional responses (such as anxiety or fear), which can hijack their ability to remember and think clearly, and their learning and performance will suffer.
Very crudely, there appears to be a U-shaped relationship between stakes and outcomes. When the stakes are neither too low or too high, we enter a 'sweet spot' which can lead to optimal memory function, decision making, motivation, learning, and performance.
However, this relationship also appears to be moderated by things such as student achievement and self-regulation. The more students expect (and experience) success, the greater their tolerance for high stakes. But the reverse is also true, which typically leads to lower achieving students putting in less and less effort as activities unfold.
How can we help students stay in the stakes sweet spot? Well, it varies between individuals, but in general we can:
Regularly inform students of the consequences of learning and assessments in school, while avoiding over-hype.
Normalise low stakes activities, while gradually exposing students to occasional higher stakes activities.
Using language and contextual cues to moderate the ‘seriousness’ of an activity, such as the visibility of timers or the swapping of terms such as ‘quiz’ or ‘test’ or ‘exam’.
In feedback, emphasising how students can improve in the future rather than focussing on their grades.
Building—and leaning on—intrinsic motivation over time.
Challenge → How do students perceive the stakes of the various activities in your classroom or school? Is there anything you could do to optimise this?
On trend → This week, we have new studies on how intrinsic motivation can moderate retrieval practice, the value of domain-general vs domain-specific knowledge in science, and the effects of teacher expectations on student confidence.
PRO bites 🥑
Hope the last few weeks of ‘23 are kind to you.