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Abstract

Forty college students participated in a study ostensibly designed to obtain measures of the hemispheric activity while they worked on a spatial reasoning task. In fact, our true interest was in determining whether subjects would return to the spatial reasoning task once the hemispheric recordings were completed. Subjects would normally be expected to return to the task by virtue of the Zeigarnik effect because no subject completed the task during the “hemispheric recording” phase. The manipulation involved telling one group of subjects that they would be paid $1.50 for participating in the study (expected reward group). The remainder of the subjects were not led to expect the reward (unexpected reward group). The result was that 86% of the unexpected reward subjects but only 58% of the expected reward subjects (p < .05) manifested the Zeigarnik effect. This differential tendency to return to the task was further reflected in time differences. The average unexpected reward subject spent 3 min 48 sec of a five-minute free-choice period at the task, whereas the average expected reward subject spent only 2 min 20 sec (p < .05). Reward expectancy, therefore, led to an undermining of the Zeigarnik effect. This observation supports Condry's prediction that rewarding performance at a task can lead to premature task disengagement.