I nearly broke my neck
At the entrance to my eldest daughter’s bedroom there is a short flight of steps. As I went to wake her this morning I slipped on what I could most graciously describe as a pile of underwear. I took 5 of those steps in one fell swoop. I think “fell” is the operative word there.
My daughter is now 14, may the lord help me. I know I shouldn’t swear on-line, but her bedroom is a shit-hole. Shit-hole is, as the French would say, le mot juste. I’d need a pitchfork to clean it out.
She needs to tidy her room. Anybody with a teenage child will be able to relate to the situation.
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A little management
What my daughter needs is a little “performance management“. My wife agrees. However, rather than the time-honoured approach of bawling her out, we have been discussing the use of incentives. I like the idea of pay for performance. I proposed to give her £10 every time she cleans her bedroom.
Mrs L. is less keen. She has been waving this research paper under my nose.
He tasked the students with building three-dimensional models from a range of plastic shapes. These shapes could be fitted together into a myriad of combinations. (The puzzle is called soma if you would like to try it).
The experiments ran for 3 one hour periods. During each hour the students tried to complete 4 different puzzles whilst the scientist timed how long they took.
Half way through each hour, the scientist excused himself and left the room, leaving the student alone with the puzzle and some magazines — The New Yorker, Time and Playboy (this was the late 60’s). The scientist told the student he would only be a couple of minutes as he had to mark the test scores. In the interim the student could do whatever they wanted.
When the facilitator returned they went back to timing puzzles. This whole process was repeated three times.
The test group
Half of the students were placed into a test group.
This group went through almost exactly the same experiment.
- In the first hour everything was the same as the control group.
- In the second hour the subjects were offered a dollar for every puzzle they completed.
- In the third hour the test group was told that all the experimental funding had been spent. They went back to making the puzzles without an incentive.
The experimental design looked like this:
What the experiment was really about
It wasn’t a study about problem solving ability. The experimenters were looking to see what impact an incentive had on motivation.
Unbeknownst to their subjects, when the facilitator walked out of the room to “mark the test scores” he walked into an adjacent room. There, through a one way mirror, he timed how long the subjects spent completing puzzles when they didn’t have to. Motivated subjects (he reasoned) would spend more time on the puzzles. Demotivated subjects would spend less.
The results looked like this:
With the benefit of hindsight the results aren’t too surprising. When you offer an incentive, motivation rises, but if you take it away again, it plummets.
As an aside it does strike me as a little unethical to leave male students alone with copies of Playboy and then watch them through one way mirrors…
That is the name scientists have coined for the results.
The over-justification effect occurs when an expected external incentive such as money or prizes decreases a person’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task. The overall effect of offering a reward for a previously unrewarded activity is a shift to extrinsic motivation and the undermining of pre-existing intrinsic motivation. Once rewards are no longer offered, interest in the activity is lost; prior intrinsic motivation does not return, and extrinsic rewards must be continuously offered as motivation to sustain the activity
Or to put it another way…
Be careful what you reward, especially if there is a chance you will take the reward away.
My wife was right
If I start paying my daughter to clean her bedroom I will be locked in for good. If I ever stop I won’t need a pitchfork to clean her room out, I will need a JCB.
Why would I kill what little motivation she has?
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Image by Julie Lane