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Rewards: A bonus, or a bribe?

A member of our Speak Away Community shared a story about a Stanford University experiment.

“They found children who drew in order to get a reward found less enjoyment in the activity than kids with no incentive.”

Another study on intrinsic motivation substituted well-known food groups with fanciful names such as “Gumblatts” and “Snogworts.” These dishes were covered, and the four-year-old participants were told that the Snogworts should be eaten in order to get the Gumblatts.

“And which one would you like to try?” the children were asked.

Ninety percent of the children chose the Gumblatts. Outcome: when kids are told they must do something to receive something else, the “reward” becomes more attractive by default (even if they don’t know what it is). And the “must-do” activity becomes even less attractive.

I think these finding are true of adults as well.

I know a creative woman working on a very difficult and long-term project. For years she created in serenity, with no thought of future payoff. Recently, she’s convinced her work can sell – that it’s the necessary means to a huge monetary reward. The problem is, ever since she got it in her mind that she needed this big paycheck, she has been miserable. Her work is torturous. She complains constantly. She’s eating her Snogworts.

And so, I’ll leave you with a few key questions regarding motivation:

· Is intrinsic motivation relevant? If not, perhaps a reward is necessary. (Taking out the trash)

· Is a reward necessary? If not, adding one could have adverse effects. (My creative friend)

· Is the reward a bonus or a bribe? Rewards should help build pride after an accomplishment, not make our Snogworts even harder to swallow.

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