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To Motivate, Better to Take Away Than to Give - The right way to frame incentives

Stashed in: Young Americans, Motivation, Psychology!, Aging

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Age Matters; Our Predictions Do Not

When Goldsmith and Dhar looked closer, however, they found that age played a critical role in the effectiveness of negatively framed incentives. “Younger people” (those 35 and under) were more motivated by negatively framed incentives than positively framed incentives—by far. Among “older people” (those 36 and older), however, positively framed incentives became more motivating. In fact, they were equally as motivating as negatively framed incentives.

This suggests that what motivates us may change across the lifespan, an idea in line with past research suggesting that with age we focus more on positive information and less on negative information. Researchers have speculated that this shift in perspective has evolutionary origins. When we are younger, attending to negative information, such as threats in the environment, may be critical for survival. As a consequence, younger people are more likely to notice and remember negative objects and events. As we age, however, this need for survival changes. Researchers have found that among elderly individuals, it is the good things in life that are noticed quicker and remembered longer. Goldsmith suspects that this shift in focus from the negative to the positive is what explains why positively framed incentives become more effective over time.

Additionally, Goldsmith and Dhar were surprised to find that we seem to have no idea what best motivates us. In two other experiments conducted with new groups of undergraduates, the researchers gave students surveys presenting scenarios based on the previous experiments. One scenario described solving puzzles and receiving money for each correct answer, while another described losing money for every puzzle left unsolved. Some students ranked how motivating they found the two scenarios, while others predicted how much they would enjoy them.

The vast majority of students predicted that they would enjoy positive incentives more than negative ones. They also predicted that they would be more motivated by positive incentives—though they were in fact of an age group that responds best to negative incentives. These results indicate that many of us rely upon the intuitive but sometimes erroneous assumption that when we are working toward something good we are more motivated than when we are working to avoid something bad, Goldsmith explains. “The finding was straightforward: people”—at least in this instance—“were bad at predicting what motivates them,” she continues. “We thought this was the most interesting part of our study.”

I would say that "enjoy" and "be motivated by" are not one and the same.

I agree, they are not the same.

People are also bad at predicting what will make them happy.

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