Need to win?
Desire to do well?
How do you play the game?
How do rewards and incentives impact our ability to succeed?
Recent research suggests that, for most of us, significant rewards decrease our performance. In one experiment, subjects first practiced at a video game in order to increase their proficiency. They were then informed that they could win money ($0 to $100) only if they successfully completed the video game task. Brain scans were conducted at two points during the experiment: 1) when they were informed about their prize value, and 2) as they played the game.
The brain scans showed that when the participants found out their prize value was high, there was more activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain which is associated with reward-seeking. Here is the interesting part. During the performance component, this same area decreased the most for the people with the highest reward.
The authors suggest this form of lowered performance is best explained by “loss aversion” – fear of losing what is already theirs. As the researchers conducted more experiments they noticed a connection between diminished activity in the ventral striatum during activities that offered significant rewards.
The authors summarize, “In a sense when participants see they are playing for $100, they view this money as being endowed to them.” Although it isn't, it is their fear of losing what they feel is already theirs that causes the poor results.
Source: “Neural Mechanisms Underlying Paradoxical Performance for Monetary Incentives Are Driven By Loss Aversion,” Vikram S. Chib, Benedetto De Martino, Shinsuke Shimojo and John P. O’Doherty, Neuron, May 10
Watch Daniel Pink’s TED Talk for more interesting thoughts about Incentives: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html
Jeff Ross, MA RCC
Jeff is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and sees clients in Vancouver (Yaletown) and North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He supports individuals with such issues as depression, anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, grief and bereavement, career and educational issues as well as growth and development. In addition he also does couples counselling / marriage counselling.
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