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Why is the Reward System considered a myth and why shouldn't we use it?

Here is why you should not use reward system to increase productivity and motivation. Read till the end to discover the truth behind the reward system and the reason behind calling it a myth.






Do you know that rewards can be inhibiting the productivity and motivation in the long run? This sounds paradoxical because we have always been taught in schools that rewards are good, they can sustain motivation and will keep you motivated and this is very much ingrained in our culture. So, one of the study tips which I have seen thrown around quite a bit is the idea of leaving chocolate at some point in your book so that when you reach it, you get that as a reward. But, today I am going to tell you a little bit about why this might not be the best way to structure study sessions and to keep you motivated. 

So, I recently read a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  by David H Pink . This really got me thinking about motivation and I went away and did some research. I looked at academic papers and many studies and I was really shocked by what I found because I was not expecting to see this. If you have tried the reward system while studying, you might have found yourself getting distracted much more easily after you have had the reward. This is because in the long run it will not really work. But, dull tasks can actually benefit from rewards. If you do something very monotonous like stacking boxes, then reward can actually be really great for giving you a motivational shot. However, in a study with Dan Ariely  with students from MIT , it was found that tasks even that had the smallest requirement of cognitive ability, showed a decrease in performance and productivity when rewards were used to motivate. Ariely claims that this is because you are focused on the reward as opposed to the task in question. So, when you use rewards, your main intention is to finish the task so that you can get the reward because you know that you have got a chocolate bar waiting for you and you can’t wait to get through the materials so that you can eat the chocolate bar. But the danger here is that you turn what you are doing intrinsically into work and in our minds it becomes work, it becomes something which is to be avoided and that’s quite a dangerous mind set to fool into you. You should always try to make studying fun. It should be made enjoyable because if it is not, you just do not feel as motivated to go ahead doing it and so you are forced to use rewards to motivate you. It means you are indirectly saying that that task is work and the reward is play and the dangerous thing here is that we only tend to do what will qualify us to get that reward and we won’t do anything else because once we have reached that part in the textbook, we can eat that chocolate bar and we are done. This prevents us from going further. For example, if you are not within the studying context, that would prevent you from going ahead and learning something even if you found it really interesting. 

However, from a productivity point of view, a psychologist named Edward L. Deci  found that whilst it give you some motivation in the short term, in the long term it actually decreases your motivation. So, one of Deci’s famous studies was the soma puzzle. Basically this is where you have a selection of cubes, put them together so that they can form the structure which you are shown on a piece of card. What Deci did was he gave them a picture and the cubes and they had to assemble the cubes into the picture which they were given. So, he made two groups. He paid money to only one of two groups which was the first one. For the first group, every one structure they did correctly, they would get a dollar and then the second group was just told to it. Then they took a break and Deci had left some magazines for both groups which they could look through if they wanted to when they were on the break. It was found that those who were in the group that was paid, were much more likely to read the magazines than those who were not paid. The members of the group which was not paid were found to be continuously working on the puzzle. This shows something really interesting. Deci says when money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity and that is really damaging when we are thinking about motivation in the long run. 

So, if you want to sustain motivation in the tasks that you do, rewards won’t help much. Rather you need to treat the activity as a kind of reward in itself. You need to appreciate it intrinsically. It is in fact beneficial for you to have a shift in your terminology so instead of thinking about your tasks as work, you should be thinking about them as play. There is no doubt that the education system is also heavily based on grade system which is quite a large reward. So, think before making the thought next time to put a chocolate on your page to motivate yourself to study. This is going to increase your motivation in the short term, but is probably going to decrease your motivation in the long term and you know very well which one is more important.

Ananya Swargiary

Author of the Content

Ananya Swargiary is a staff writer with an experience of working in the online media industry, skilled in strong social media managing with a dash of writing skills and is currently pursuing B.Tech degree focused in Civil Engineering. She usually lives in her La-La Land, but if you are interested to know more about her, feel free to connect. She is just another bibliophile who reads by flashlight.

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