Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rewards are addictive

The problem with rewards is that they are addictive and kids become very dependent on  them. The only reason why kids d or do not do things is to get a reward or avoid punishment. Because kids are so unmotivated we repeatedly need to offer rewards  which again reduces interest in the task. The problem is also that when rewards co-opt intrinsic motivation and preclude intrinsic satisfaction , the extrinsic needs become stronger in themselves. Thus , people develop stronger extrinsic needs as  substitutes for more basic , unsatisfied needs…. They end up behaving as if they were addicted to extrinsic rewards. The claim that we need to use rewards  because a task is uninteresting or kids are unmotivated is just fueling the situation and the last thing we should be doing is giving rewards because they undermine interest. Promising a reward to someone who is unmotivated or demotivated is like offering salt water to someone who is thirsty, it's not the solution it's the problem.  Rewards , do motivate. Rewards motivate kids to get more rewards. 

The reasons why Rewards Fail

In his book Punished by RewardsAlfie Kohn  explains  why rewards fail.

The  are  2 major reasons why rewards fail.

A When anything is presented as a prerequisite for something else -  do this task and you can get that – the task comes to be seen as less desirable

B Rewards are usually experienced as controlling and we tend to recoil from situations where our autonomy is diminished even if we wanted the 'goody'.

here are links to problems caused by rewards taken from AK's book , PBR , an idea from Dan Ariely on social and econmic norms and from my spiritual world an idea on spiritual development and rewards 

Rewards reduce interest in tasks

Rewards are Addictive

Rewards interfere with Moral and Spiritual development and Learning

Rewards and Achievement   - Rewards undermine the quality of work

Rewards Punish

Rewards rupture relationships

Rewards ignore Reasons

Rewards reduce interest in tasks

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 When some task is presented as prerequisite for something else- that is, a means towards some other end- the task comes to be seen as less desirable. It also conveys the message to the kid, that if teachers have to bribe him to do this, it must be something that he wouldn't want to do, and/ or the activity itself is not worth doing for its own sake. The only reason he is doing it is for the reward.

Kids who were invited to play with another child so that they could get access to his toys or were offered cookies for playing with the child, were less interested in playing with the other child on future occasions.

In one representative study, young children were introduced to an unfamiliar beverage called kefir. Some were just asked to drink it; others were praised Those children who received either verbal or tangible rewards consumed more of the beverage than other children, as one might predict. But a week later these children found it significantly less appealing than they did before, whereas children who were offered no rewards liked it just as much as, if not more than, they had earlier.
There is a story of an elderly man who was harassed and insulted by a crowd of 10 year olds as they passed his house on their way home from school. One afternoon after listening to their insults – how stupid, bald and ugly he was , he came up with a plan. He announced to the kids that if they came back tomorrow he would pay them a dollar each for their efforts. Amazed and excited they arrived even earlier and began throwing insults with much fervor. The old man , true to his word paid everyone his dollar. He then announced – do the same tomorrow and  you will get 25 cents for your trouble. The kids thought that it was still worth their while and came back the following day to taunt him .At the first catcall, he walked over with his quarters paid off his hecklers. From now on, he announced I can only give you a penny for doing this. The kids looked  at each other in disbelief. ' A penny – forget it ' and they never came back.

Two groups of kids were asked to evaluate and give their opinions about a collection of puzzles after playing with them for half an hour. One group was paid by the company for their time. When the half an hour was up , all but one of the kids from the reward group stopped playing with the puzzles . Kids from the non-reward group had to be pulled away from the puzzles. Rewards got in the way of the kids developing any interest and intrinsic reward in doing the puzzles.


Rewards and Achievement.


Rewards are very powerful in the short-term in getting people to behave in the way, you want them to act. People may actually feel more focused, but the focus is typically more  narrow than when no rewards are involved. This helps only in doing manual jobs where little thinking is involved. However rewards change in a negative manner the way we engage in a given behavior. We do exactly what is necessary to get the reward and reach the desired goal and no more. So we are less likely to notice or remember things that are not immediately relevant to what we are doing. Kids were given different colored cards and had to memorize all the words. The kids were unexpectedly asked to recall the color of the card that corresponds to each word. Kids who were promised a prize had more difficulty in remembering as rewards undermine this 'incidental learning '. In another experiment ,one group of people  were  asked  to do a task , and another group were promised a reward for doing the same task  well. The group that was not promised a reward did much better. Also people who were promised bigger sums of money did worse than those who were promised small sums of money. The explanation is that problem solving and non-manual tasks need more exploratory and creative  thinking and  so need a wider focus.A salary is not a reward but ' compensation' for work put in. And still if employers want to promote creativity and excellence that must pay well and then do their best to take their employees minds off money.  
  Rewards narrow our focus. Creativity is stifled because people need to feel self-directed and autonomous and people  experience  rewards as controlling. The objective is to succeed in obtaining the reward with as little effort as possible. So people will choose easier tasks avoid risk taking and  challenging ones and spend the least amount of time as possible. Rewards are problematic even when used with tasks that are less interesting than others. Not only do they reduce interest in the task itself but also in strategies  for reconfiguring a dull task and brightening it up. 


Rewards Punish


Rewards are used to elicit behaviors which would not naturally occur. The message is Do this and you'll get that, which is not much different – Do this and this is what will happen to you. Rewards punish because they are controlling .Even if the kid wants the rewards but they experience it as controlling, the experience assumes a punitive quality. The carrot becomes the stick when kids do not get rewards that they were hoping for. And when everything a kid gets is either a reward or a privilege when he does not behave he is punished by losing his privilege or reward.



Rewards rupture relationships.

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They focus on individualism; create competition and conflict between kids where complaints of unequal treatment and playing favorites are common. It interferes with efforts to promote collaboration, cooperative learning and a sense of community which improves the quality of learning.

Rewards also interfere with a genuine and trusting relationship with a teacher where a kid feels safe to be open, expose his vulnerability, admit mistakes and ask for help when problems develop. It is the judgmental nature of rewards and praise that encourages kids to try and impress and curry favor with the person handing out the rewards. Rewards are a tool for ' doing to ' kids, control and manipulation through seduction, rather than ' working with ' kids in an unconditional way. Kids feel valued and accepted only if they behave as they are told and do well in school.

Rewards ignore reasons.



The traditional approach to problems with behavior and learning is to make the kid 'wanna behave and put more effort into learning by giving rewards and incentives. Rewards are appealing because they are simple to use and don't require any attention to the reasons why the trouble developed in the first place.  Dr Ross Greene, the originator of the CPS collaborative problem solving approach says kids are already motivated, they would rather do well, be flexible and adaptive than are failures. We need to ask not how to motivate them, but what's getting in their way. The research shows that rewards caused more stress and anxiety and caused the very problems they were supposed to treat. Instead we need to address the underlying problems, the lagging skills and unmet emotional needs of the kid etc...