What is negative motivation

Fear of loss - Negative incentives are more motivating

Rewards are intended to motivate people to behave in a certain way. According to the motto: the better the performance, the higher the bonus. In theory a good idea. In practice, however, such positive incentives are suboptimal.

How do you get people to enjoy doing something? Do you need external incentives? And if so, which one - is the proverbial carrot better than the stick? In other words: do positive rewards or negative punishments help?

Experts and those affected have been dealing with these questions for decades, regardless of whether they are researchers and parents, teachers or superiors. Now the discussion is getting new things to talk about. "Negative incentives are sometimes more motivating than positive ones," claim at least Kelly Goldsmith (Kellogg School of Management) and Ravi Dhar (Yale University) in a new study.

In the first experiment, 62 students were asked to solve anagrams. They saw rows of letters such as "etkbas", which they should transform into a meaningful word ("basket"). Some were easier, others more difficult.

The researchers divided the test subjects into two groups beforehand. Some learned: For every correctly solved anagram there was 25 cents, with a maximum of 1.50 dollars. The others were given $ 1.50 before the exercise began. Goldsmith deducted 25 cents for each wrongly solved anagram.

So it was all about the same amount. However, some had to work hard to win money. The others had to struggle not to lose it. Group A was rewarded, and group B was punished.

Now everyone got down to work. Goldsmith, meanwhile, used a stopwatch to check how long they worked, as an indicator of motivation, so to speak. Lo and behold: Group A only tinkered about 9.5 minutes. Group pondered for more than 15 minutes.

It was the same in another experiment with older subjects. Again, those participants who had something to lose tried harder than those who could gain something.

According to Kelly Goldsmith, this is due to the negativity bias: Most people are more impressed by bad news than positive. Apparently the fear of losing money is greater than the prospect of winning it. The punishment outshines the reward.

Why do most companies still rely on positive incentives? Goldsmith found one possible clue in the last few experiments. Here the volunteers should imagine what encourages them. The result was always the same: the respondents firmly expected that a reward would drive them more than a punishment, and that they would have more fun along the way - even though the anagram tasks had shown the opposite.

Apparently, many people mistakenly think that a positively worded reward is better incentives. Rather, the following applies: The power of the fear of loss is so great that people can be more motivated by it. At least for short tasks.

Kelly Goldsmith and Ravi Dhar (2013). Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied

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