Responsibility and Choice

Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of outside pressure, such as a large reward.

The incentive or reward may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act. Consequently, we won’t feel committed to it. The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.

These conclusions have important implications for parents and teachers. It suggests that we should not use bribes (rewards) or threats (punishment) to discipline children or coerce them to do the things we want them to do.

Such discipline techniques may produce temporary compliance with our wishes. However, if we want more than just that, if we want the children to believe in the correctness of what they have done, and if we want them to continue to perform the desired behavior when we are not present to discipline them, then we must somehow arrange for them to accept inner responsibility for the actions we want them to take.

Having young people exposed to the difference between Level C (external motivation) and Level D (internal motivation) in the Hierarchy of Social Development is a simple and easy way to accomplish this.