Do young children use the discounting principle?

Leonard S. Newman, Diane N. Ruble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


According to the discounting principle, the perceived role of a given cause in leading to a given effect is diminished when other possible causes for that event are also detected. Use of this principle is believed to underlie the overjustification effect: when people are pressured to engage in an enjoyable activity, their intrinsic motivation decreases. However, overjustification effects have been documented in young children, even though past research indicates that children less than 7-8 years of age do not use or understand the discounting principle. This research reexamines this paradox. Past discounting studies have ignored evidence that young children often prefer entity to person causes of behavior. The two experiments reported here demonstrate that when tested appropriately, even young children use the discounting principle and can apply it to their understanding of an overjustification-type situation. Results are discussed in terms of the attributional mediation of behavior and the importance of taking into account the nature of subjects' social knowledge when examining their use of attributional principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-593
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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