Reward magnitude and liking for instrumental activity

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It is commonly assumed that the more an object facilitates attainment of important goals, the more it is liked. Dissonance theory yields an opposite prediction. A two process conception of the relation between reward and attitude which reconciles these views is presented. A V-curve relation between reward magnitude and liking for activity instrumental to reward attainment is hypothesized. At the point where the relative number of dissonant cognitions is psychologically insignificant or zero, a direct satisfaction process supplants the dissonance process. The slope of the reward-attitude curve shifts from negative to positive at this transition point. In an experiment designed to test this hypothesis students were offered 2, 4, or 3 experimental credit points for committing themselves to three hours of work at a highly repetitious task. Experimental credit points contribute to students' final course grades and are therefore highly valued by subjects. The instructions were varied such that both the task and the subject’s part in the experiment were placed in either a neutral or a negative light (Neutral or Negative Instructions conditions). Regardless of the Instructions used, 8 Credit groups expressed greater liking for the activity and more pleasure with participating than 4 Credit groups. Contrary to expectation. Affect scores for 2 Credit Neutral subjects were similar to those of 4 Credit Neutral subjects and significantly lower than those of 8 Credit Neutral subjects. Several possible explanations of the lack of difference between 2 and 4 Credit Neutral groups are discussed. It is suggested that the reward-attitude function is U-shaped rather than V-shaped and that these two groups both He in a relatively flat region of the curve in which dissonance and direct satisfaction effects operate simultaneously to increase attitudinal positivity. Though Negative Instructions (administered to one 4 Credit and one 8 Credit group) were expected to produce an inverse relation between reward and liking, they simply resulted in a uniform drop in Affect Scale scores. The Instructions variable had no impact on Desired Frequency of Rest Period, a less direct index of attitude. For the reward manipulation an opposite trend occurred. Varying the number of credit points had a relatively stronger effect on Desired Frequency of Rest scores and a relatively weaker (though still significant) effect on the Affect Scales. This result suggests that the Instructions variable actually failed to alter activity attractiveness. The effects of Negative Instructions on Affect Scale ratings could have been produced either by subjects* tendency to conform to the experimenter's apparent expectations or by the decrease of inter-personal situational restraints against public expression of dislike for the experiment in the experimenter's presence. Neither acceptance nor rejection of the general two-process hypothesis of attitude formation is warranted by these data. Nevertheless, the experiment clearly demonstrates that reward magnitude and attitudes toward activities instrumental in securing the regard are positively related under certain conditions, a finding which suggests an important restriction on the generality of Festinger’s dissonance theory.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



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