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Does Money Motivate ?


Just as I was settling down with my morning coffee on a cold December morning,out popped a headline from the front page of my newspaper.  “Bring Nobel ,take home Rs 100 Crore : N Chandrababu Naidu.”  A sum that was 17 times more than the prize money given out with the Nobel award and a proclamation that would have made Jeremy Bentham proud.Jeremy Bentham’s theory of motivation centred around man’s desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure( read money bonus and incentives). The carrot and stick theory of motivation, developed in the early years of the industrial revolution, propounded that any worker will work if the reward is big enough or the punishment sufficiently unpleasant.

This would put human beings alongside any donkey which keeps reaching for the carrot (100cr) while being careful not to slow down for fear of getting whipped by the stick. Fortunately for AP scientists there is no stick. However, North Korean athletes did not have it so good. According to the Korea Times, the North Korean Olympic team was given a strict medal target and those who failed could be punished by being moved to poor quality housing, having their rations reduced and, in the worst case scenario, being sent to the coal mines as punishment. Those who won medals would be rewarded with better housing,car and other gifts from the regime.

No prizes for guessing whether that worked. North Korea’s 31 athletes competed in 9 events and won just 2 gold medals,3 silvers and two bronzes. 

Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University, has shared the relationship of money and motivation through several of his books and articles. Ariely says using money to motivate people can be a double-edged sword. Low to moderate performance-based incentives can help for tasks that require cognitive ability. However when the incentive level is way too high,100 Cr in this case, it can command too much attention and thereby distract the person’s mind with thoughts about the reward. This may ultimately lead to stress and culminate in poor performance.

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, shares the same observation: that rewards kill instrinsic motivation and creativity. Kohn states that close to twenty research studies “show that people do inferior work when they are expecting to get a reward for it.”

Scientists work for a calling: A mission and purpose that drives them despite hardships for reaching their goals. Marie Curie aka Madame Curie, the first and the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences worked twelve to fourteen hours a day. “She lived an almost monastic lifestyle in her early years in Paris,surviving on nothing but buttered bread and tea which left her anaemic and regularly fainting from hunger,” writes Roam Krznaric in “How to find fulfilling work.” Her work gave her meaning and purpose and she was driven by her passion for science.

Would she have been motivated by the 100 Cr prize money ? No prizes for guessing!

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