February 08, 2013

Rewards can reduce motivation

We have utilised a big portion of our time this week talking about rewards and recognition. I will be focusing on reward in this blog and I will focus on recognition in a subsequent blog. A reward is simply something that is given in recognition of service, effort or achievement. From the definition, it can be brain numbing to come to the fact that reward does not lead to increased job performance. Its mind bugling for me because I do not see a problem in grafting extra hard at work to get extra stipend. In a research titled 'overjustification hypothesis' conducted by Lepper, Greene and Nisbett (1973). In the experiment, 51 children aged between 3- 4, with an interest in drawing were selected to see what effect reward will have when children are already fond of an activity. In this case it was significant that the children have an interest in drawing.

Children drawing

The selected children were then divided into three groups and given the following information and conditions:

  1. The first group were told that they would get a seal with a certificate if they took part (Expected reward).
  2. The second group would receive the same reward as group one, but they did not know about it (Surprise reward).
  3. In the third group, children in this category expected no reward, and did not receive one.

Each child was invited into a room to draw for 6 minutes and then given their reward or not (depending on the given condition). As the experiment progressed, the children were closely monitored to see how much they will continue to draw of their own accord. The children in the first group who expectedto be rewarded for the activity, lost interest once they expected to be rewarded. Infact, judges rated the pictures drawn by the children expecting the reward in the first group to be less aesthetically pleasing. In comparison, the children in the second group who were not expecting to be rewarded performed twice better than the first group, and there was no significant statistical difference between the second group and the third group.

Lepper et al (1973) experiment reminds me of my previous career. In my previous profession, there was a handful of courses that employees could volunteer to go on and get rewarded for. For example, some specialist courses can give an employee an extra £200 pound a month on top of their basic salary. So the more courses employees could get themselves on, the more money they will get. The resulting effect was that employees were coming back from these specialist courses and they were not putting their newly acquired skills into practise, and this was largely due to the fact that they did it for the money. Before I forget to mention, I was one of them.

So to you future leaders and MBE prodigy's, reward can also lead to a reduction in motivation. For the prospective fathers and mothers, perhaps one learning point from Lepper et al (1973) is that rewarding your children for good behaviour does not always mean that they will be well-behaved behind close doors.

Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., &Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129–137.


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