Psychological Self-Help

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controversy about whether or not giving extrinsic rewards, like money,
reduces a person's interest in doing tasks that are already quite
The loudest voices during this argument have contended in many
articles and books that providing a lucrative or intense incentive
program to encourage high productivity is likely to actually reduce the
employees' intrinsic interest in their work and, thus, would be, in the
long run, counterproductive. Or, the classic contention in education is
that giving extrinsic rewards, like money for "A's," for doing something
that could or should be quite pleasurable, like studying, would reduce
the intrinsic satisfaction obtained from studying and be problematic in
the course of a life-time of learning. Intuitively, that notion sounded
believable...and some research supported it... but the crux of that
argument was that rewarding behavior makes the behavior less likely
to occur. That is counter to the basic laws of learning. What are the
facts (as of today)? 
Recent research and the controversy 
Cameron, Banko and Pierce (2001), spokespersons for one side of
the debate, recently reviewed over 100 studies assessing the
relationship between receiving rewards for some behavior and the
subsequent intrinsic interest in that behavior and concluded: 
(1) Considering the overall results, receiving rewards does not,
under all conditions, reduce one's intrinsic motivation to carry out the
task (later without a reward). 
(2) Rewarding persons for carrying out tasks of low interest
tends to increase the intrinsic pleasure one gets from doing the task.
So, rewards are important in increasing intrinsic satisfaction with or
motivation to do low-interest activities. 
(3) Receiving verbal praise and positive feedback increases the
intrinsic satisfaction derived from that activity. This is true while doing
both high-interest or low-interest tasks. 
(4) The effects of receiving tangible rewards while doing high
interest activities depends on the specific conditions under which the
rewards are given. If the rewards are tangible, announced ahead of
time, and explicitly offered for completing a task or for doing well on
the task, the intrinsic interest in doing these tasks is less during a later
free-choice time period. (In other words, make the task like "work for
pay" or like a job you are directed to do and people will lose some
interest.) Likewise, rewarding each unit successfully completed or
solved ("piece work") also reduced intrinsic interest (while often
increasing productivity!). Moreover, not surprisingly, if the reward is
dispensed in such a way as to imply that the performance was poor,
that will also reduce intrinsic interest in the task. (People don't like to
be pushed, controlled, or told they are failing.) 
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