In chapter 7, Powell discusses the various schedules of reinforcement in operant conditioning. One particular schedule of note is noncontingent reinforcement, where the reinforcer is delivered independently of any response. In other words, no response is required to get the reinforcer (2013). Powell highlighted a study that demonstrates the negative effects of noncontingent reinforcement on professional athletes. More specifically, this study found that major league pitchers who had signed long-term contracts showed a decline in the number of innings pitched (O’Brien, Figlerski, Howard, & Caggiano 1981). Since long-term contracts often include large amounts of guaranteed money, perhaps the players in this study no longer felt the need to “prove their worth”.
To illustrate this point further, I briefly researched a few notable players on baseball-reference.com . One pitcher that may have encountered this problem was A.J. Burnett. In his 2008 season, he recorded some of the best numbers of his career: 221 innings pitched, 34 games started, and 231 strikeouts. As a result, he was rewarded with a five-year $82.5 million free agency contract from the Yankees the next year. For the rest of his career (seven more years), Burnett’s innings pitched and strikeouts never went above 200 despite hovering around the same number of starts. Clearly, Burnett’s performance declined after his big contract. Although age and injuries are a likely cause for this decline, perhaps it was a result of Burnett’s intrinsic motivation (playing baseball) being met with an extrinsic reinforcer (money), thus decreasing his interest in baseball and desire to improve.
Link to A.J. Burnett's statistics: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/burnea.01.shtml
Powell, R. A., Symbaluk, D. G., & Honey, P. L. (2013). Introduction to learning and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.