A new case study has found that the stick is far more effective than the carrot when it comes to motivation.
Vassilis Dalakas, a marketing professor at California State University San Marcos, recently gave his two consumer behaviour classes optional quizzes: if they did well, they scored a point, but if they did badly, they lost one.
If they ended the term with five or more points, students had the right to drop out of their end of term exam.
The trick, though, was that Dalakas framed the question as lose or gain for his two different classes:
In the first class, the students were told that the final exam was required but they could earn the right to not take it with five points from the quizzes. In the second class however, they were told that the final exam was optional. But, they could lose that right if they did not get five points from the quizzes.
He found that 43 per cent of the first class, who thought the exam was the default option, worked hard enough to skip the exam. But in the second class, who were told to earn their right to skip it, 82 per cent of the students ended the term with five or more points.
When Dalakas surveyed the two groups of students, the second class were far more engaged with the idea of "giving up" their right not to sit the exam.
Writing for The Conversation, he posited that the results were due to the behavioural-economics phenomenon of loss aversion - the idea that our dislike of losing something is stronger than our pleasure at gaining something.
Think about finding a £20 note: you'd be mildly chuffed to find one in a pocket you forgot about. But you'd probably react far more strongly - and negatively - at the idea of losing £20 you thought you already had.
A Washington University study from 2015 drew similar conclusions to Dalakas:
From an evolutionary perspective, people tend to avoid punishments or dangerous situations. Rewards, on the other hand, have less of a life-threatening impact.
HT: Science of Us