From: The Guardian

Why rewards can backfire

The Guardian:

Here’s a story about a man with a machiavellian genius for psychological manipulation. (It comes from the US educator Alfie Kohn, so I’ll Britishise it here.) This man is elderly and lives near a school. Every afternoon a group of pupils subject him to merciless taunts as they walk home. So he approaches them and offers a deal: he’ll give each child £1 if they come back next day to taunt him further. Incredulous but excited, they agree. They return to mock him; he pays as promised, but tells them that the following day, he’ll only be able to afford to pay 25p per person. Still thrilled to be paid at all, the children are there again the next afternoon, whereupon the old man sadly explains that, henceforth, the daily reward for hurling abuse at him will be a mere 1p. “A penny?” The kids are scornful. For such pathetic money, it’s not worth the effort. They stalk off, grumbling, and never bother him again.

The latest evidence, a study published in Psychological Science, suggests charity fundraisers bring in less money, and come across as less sincere, when they’re being paid – even if they started off genuinely committed to the cause. Come to think of it, since most of us are obliged to work for money, maybe the overjustification effect is built into the economy. Does the very fact we’re paid for what we do mean we could never extract the maximum meaning from it?

Read the whole story: The Guardian 

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