Research has suggested that people receive pleasure from success and competence. Two studies have illustrated that there is a positive linear relationship between pleasure (smiling) and difficulty level choice. This suggests that people receive the most pleasure in solving the most challenging task. However, Susan Harter has observed that children who were given the most difficult problem rated their performance negatively because of the increase in time and struggle. She suggests that the relationship between pleasure and challenge is curvilinear, not linear.
Harter predicts that in the absence of grades, children will actively seek out optimally challenged problems. These problems are relatively difficult for children but when properly solved, also produce the most pleasure. She also suggests that in the presence of grades, children would choose to solve less challenging because of their desire to do well and get a good grade.
A total of 40 sixth graders, 20 girls and 20 boys all from the same school, participated in Harter's experiment.
The boys and girls were evenly assigned to the two conditions, "game" or "grade". In the first phase, all the children were exposed anagrams of four varying difficulties. They were given 120 seconds to make a word using all of the provided letters. In the second phase, the students chose which anagrams (level of difficulty) they wanted to do. The "game" group was told that it was a game, whereas the "grade" group was told they were going to be evaluated using a letter grade.
The independent variable was grades: whether they received them or not. There were several dependent variables: difficulty choice, smiling, and children's reasons for choosing the anagrams they chose. The experimenters measured solution time and smiling. Participants also rated anagram difficulty and their own competence levels.
Harter found that anagram difficulty is inversely related...