Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm.

The book flap for Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes says:

“Our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you’ll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way that we train the family pet.

Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Programs that use rewards to change people’s behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run. Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.

Rewards and punishments are just two sides of the same coin — and the coin doesn’t buy very much. What is needed, Kohn explains, is an alternative to both ways of controlling people. The final chapters offer a practical set of strategies for parents, teachers, and managers that move beyond the use of carrots or sticks.”

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