Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Testing Behavioral Incentives

Difficulty
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites Parental consent must be granted for each child participating in this experiment. In addition, the experimental design (including consent forms) must be approved by the fair's SRC.
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

What motivates you to clean your room/mow the lawn/wash the dishes (substitute your own responsibility at home)? What motivates you to do something you really like to do? Or think about this: you'd like to get your younger brother or sister to do you a favor. What strategy works best? Here is a project designed to test which incentive strategy works best for encouraging small children to complete a task.

Objective

The objective of this experiment is to find out what form of positive reinforcement (praise or a reward) is most effective in influencing four-year-old children to complete a task.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Sources

This project is based on:

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Testing Behavioral Incentives" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 30 June 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Soc_p009.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 30). Testing Behavioral Incentives. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Soc_p009.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-06-30

Introduction

Research has shown that positive reinforcement is an effective means of influencing behavior. This experiment looks further to determine which type of reinforcement—praise or reward—is more effective with young children.

To do this project, you will test a random sample of four-year-old preschoolers to see how quickly they can complete a simple shape-matching task. One group will receive stickers as a reward, the other group will receive verbal praise.

You will need to get permission and assistance from one or more pre-school teachers to do this project. You will also need to have written permission from the children's parents before conducting the study. The Experimental Procedure section explains how to construct the survey. The Science Buddies resource, How Many Survey Participants Do I Need?, will show you how to figure out how many respondents you need to recruit in order to achieve your desired level of confidence that your results are representative of the total population.

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and concepts:

  • positive reinforcement,
  • behavior modification,
  • reinforcement theory,
  • praise and behavioral outcomes,
  • population,
  • random sample.

Questions

  • How many participants do you need in your study in order to be 90% confident that the results from your study are representative of four-year-old pre-school students in general? How many participants for a 95% confidence level?
  • What type of positive reinforcement will work best for influencing the behavior of four-year-old children?

Bibliography

  • The following references are good sources of information on reward and reinforcement in educational settings:
  • This website has descriptions and calculators for several statistical tests, including the Student's t-test that you can use in this project:
    Kirkman, T., date unknown. "Student's t-Tests," Department of Physics, College of St. Benedict & St. John's University [accessed February 23, 2006] http://www.physics.csbsju.edu/stats/t-test.html.

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

  • two groups of four-year-old pre-schoolers:
    • written parental consent must be obtained,
    • you will also need to obtain consent from the preschool teacher(s) involved,
    • the more subjects you can test, the more reliable your results will be (see the Science Buddies resource, How Many Participants Do I Need?, to see why;
  • children's blocks in four different shapes (square, circle, rectangle, triangle);
  • board with outline of square, circle, rectangle, and triangle;
  • stop watch or timer,
  • stickers.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

Note: There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. For an experiment such as this, which involves children, parental consent must be obtained for all participants prior to beginning the experiment. You will also need to obtain advance permission from the teacher(s) whose classes are involved in this project. In addition, the experimental design must be approved by the fair's scientific review committee (SRC) prior to the commencement of experiments or surveys. Please refer to the ISEF rules for additional important requirements for studies involving human subjects: http://www.sciserv.org/isef/document/.

  1. You will need to plan well ahead for this experiment in order to obtain SRC approval and parental consent forms for your survey participants. The SRC will need a detailed description of your proposed experimental procedure. They will also need to approve the parental consent forms before you begin.
  2. The task for the test is straightforward: the children are supposed to place the shapes inside their matching outlines on the board. Their goal is to do the task accurately, and as quickly as possible. You will time how long it takes each child to complete the task.
  3. The children should be randomly divided into two groups:
    1. each child receives instructions at the beginning of the task,
    2. one group is given instructions only and receives praise as a reward during the task,
    3. the other group is given instructions and told that they will receive a prize (stickers) as a reward for completing the task;
    4. note that the praise group is not informed about the prize group, nor is a prize discussed with them at any point (the children receiving the stickers should leave them outside the classroom until the entire test is completed).
  4. Both groups should be tested in the same location, outside the classroom door at a quiet table with minimal distraction. Also, this way no child will watch any other children during the testing.
  5. Record the test results and birthday of each participant.
  6. After the tests are complete, calculate the average time for each group. Is there a difference?
  7. More advanced students should calculate whether any difference between the average scores is statistically significant.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • Use birthdays to calculate the age of each participant, and make a scatterplot of test score (y-axis) vs. age (x-axis). This graph will show you if age is a major determinant of performance. Do you see a correlation between age and test score?
  • Extend the study to children of different ages. Do different age groups respond in the same way or differently?
  • Design an experiment to test the effectiveness of alternative forms of reward such as toys, candy, or special activities.
  • Design an experiment to test the effectiveness of praise from different individuals, such as a stranger, a teacher, a parent, or a peer.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

woman counseling man

Psychologist

Why people take certain actions can often feel like a mystery. Psychologists help solve these mysteries by investigating the physical, cognitive, emotional, or social aspects of human behavior and the human mind. Some psychologists also apply these findings in order to design better products or to help people change their behaviors. Read more
sociologist conducting interview

Sociologist

Any time there is more than one person in a room, there is potential for a social interaction to occur or for a group to form. Sociologists study these interactions—how and why groups and societies form, and how outside events like health issues, technology, and crime affect both the societies and the individuals. If you already like to think about how people interact as individuals and in groups, then you're thinking like a sociologist! Read more
person graphing data on computer screen

Statistician

Statisticians use the power of math and probability theory to answer questions that affect the lives of millions of people. They tell educators which teaching method works best, tell policy-makers what levels of pesticides are acceptable in fresh fruit, tell doctors which treatment works best, and tell builders which type of paint is the most durable. They are employed in virtually every type of industry imaginable, from engineering, manufacturing, and medicine to animal science, food production, transportation, and education. Everybody needs a statistician! Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity