Carrots Are More Effective than Sticks

Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester and director of its human motivation program, has been studying human motivation for years. The following is adapted from the July/August 2013 issue of Scientific American Mind, page 18.

It’s pretty well accepted that punishment is NOT a great motivator. But there is still some debate about whether “tangible” carrots such as bonuses and prizes also truly inspire.

However, one carrot that nearly always works, according to a large meta-analysis by Dr. Deci and his colleagues, is positive feedback.

Positive feedback is something that feels good to anyone who’s getting it. This simply means supporting someone’s sense of competence. When people are highly motivated, engaged in the work, and committed to it, they do it well. And when they do it well, that gives positive results for all concerned.

Giving positive feedback is a corollary of reflection and is the third principle to practice in the Discipline Without Stress model