Is It Effective to Reward?

“Rewards have effects that interfere with performance in ways that we are only beginning to understand.” Janet Spense, 1971
Carol Dweck shared the following thoughts and research on rewards and punishment.
1. For whom are rewards effective? Behavior is easier to control when the organism is already dependent on you because a dependent organism can be kept in a state of need. They must be needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behaviour.
2. For how long are rewards effective?
Rewards must be judged on whether they lead to lasting change, that persists when there are no longer any goodies to be gained. Most people with an interest in seeing some behavior change would say it is intrinsically better to have that change take root so that rewards are no longer necessary to maintain it. Even behaviorists accept this criterion.
3. At what, exactly, are rewards effective?
Reinforcements do not generally alter the attitudes and emotional commitment that underlie our behaviors. They do not make deep, lasting changes because they are aimed at affecting only what we do.
What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get long term quality in the workplace to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, the, rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. They are worse than useless, they are actually counterproductive.
Dweck noted that rewards killed creativity, and this was true regardless of the type of task, the type of reward, the timing of the reward and the age of people involved.
Those who were promised a toy for doing well, formulated hypotheses in a much less systematize fashion and took longer to get the solution than those who weren’t promised anything. Even more disturbing, those anticipating a reward also did a poorer job on an entirely different task a week later.

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