Bioengineers have isolated the neurons that carry split-second decisions to act from the higher brain to the brain stem. In doing so, they have provided insight into the causes of severe brain disorders such as depression.
In organisms as complex as humans, the neural mechanisms that help answer the question, "Is it worth my effort?" can fail, leading to debilitating mental illnesses. Major depressive disorder, for instance, which affects nearly 20 percent of people at some point in life, is correlated with underperformance in the parts of the brain involved in motivation. But researchers have struggled to work out the exact cause and effect.
Clinicians refer to this slowing down of motivation in depressed patients as "psychomotor retardation." According to Deisseroth, who is also a practicing psychiatrist, patients may experience this symptom mentally, finding it hard to envision the positive results of an action, or, he said, they may feel physically heavy, like their limbs just do not want to move.
"This is one of the most debilitating aspects of depression, and motivation to take action is something that we can model in animals. That's the exciting opportunity for us as researchers," said Deisseroth, who also holds the D.H. Chen Professorship.
(1975) Lepper, Greene. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Abstract: Preschool children engaged in a novel activity in individual sessions. In the expected reward conditions, subjects expected to win a chance to play with highly attractive toys by engaging in the activity; in the unexpected reward conditions, subjects had no prior knowledge of this reward. Orthogonally, subjects in the surveillance conditions were told that their performance would be monitored via a television camera; while subjects in the nonsurveillance conditions were not monitored. Two weeks later, unobtrusive measures of the subjects' intrinsic interest in the activity were obtained in their classrooms. Two significant main effects were obtained reproducing and expanding find- ings from earlier studies. Subjects who had undertaken the activity expecting an extrinsic reward showed less subsequent interest in the activity than those who had not expected a reward, and subjects who had been placed under sur- veillance showed less subsequent interest than those not previously monitored. [Full article on file.]
This lively RSAnimate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace. He keeps saying people will work long, hard, and without rewards as long as they're getting: "Challenge and mastery, along with making a contribution. As long as they are paid enough to take money off their list of worries."
Parents commonly use rewards to encourage children to eat healthfully, but this practice remains controversial because rewards are suspected of undermining children’s intrinsic motivation. A cluster-randomized trial examined children’s acceptance of a disliked vegetable over 12 daily taste exposures.
These exposures were paired with a tangible reward, a social reward, or no reward, and the findings were compared with the results from a no-treatment control condition. Liking and intake of the vegetable were assessed in a free-choice consumption task at preintervention, postintervention, 1 month after intervention, and 3 months after intervention. Liking increased more in the three intervention conditions than in the control condition, and there were no significant differences between the intervention conditions. These effects were maintained at follow-up.
Children in both reward conditions increased consumption, and these effects were maintained for 3 months; however, the effects of exposure with no reward became nonsignificant by 3 months. These results indicate that external rewards do not necessarily produce negative effects and may be useful in promoting healthful eating.
Recently, 3 different meta-analytic reviews of the literature concerning the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation have appeared, including that by Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (see record 1999-01567-001) in this issue. Interestingly, despite their common focus, these reviews have offered dramatically opposed bottom-line conclusions about the meaning and implications of this literature.
Meta-analyses indicated that rewards increase perceived self-determination and that rewards' effects on intrinsic motivation depend on the performance requirement. Reward for meeting vague performance standards reduced the subsequent choice to carry out the task and did not affect self-reported interest.
Reward for meeting absolute performance standards did not affect free choice but increased self-reported interest. Reward for exceeding others increased both free choice and self-reported interest. Applied studies commonly found positive or null relationships between reward and intrinsic motivation. The findings suggest that reward procedures requiring ill-defined or minimal performance convey task triviality, thereby decreasing intrinsic motivation. Reward procedures requiring specific high task performance convey a task's personal or social significance, increasing intrinsic motivation.
Half of all employees who say that they do not feel valued at work report that they intend to look for a new job in the next year according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA). Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged.
Daniel H. Pink's bestseller 'Drive' addresses how to break out of what Pink calls "Motivation 2.0" thinking—a mentality that depends on carrots and sticks to the point that, in many cases, they have been inappropriately applied.
"Motivation 2.0 still serves some purposes well," Pink writes. "Sometimes it works; many times it doesn't. And understanding its defects will help determine which parts to keep and which to discard as we fashion an upgrade."
This is exactly what Pink sets out to accomplish as he distills the research for us in an effort to close the gap between what science knows and what people actually do. After exposing some of the flaws in the way we currently motivate others at home, in business and in education, he offers specifics for fixing them.
In this excerpt (reprinted on Mom Psych with permission from the author and the Penguin Group), Pink specifically addresses the topic of "merit pay" for teachers.
Worldwide surveys have consistently ranked the Scandinavian countries — with their generous family-leave policies, low crime, free health care, rich economies and, yes, high income taxes — as the happiest places on earth.
A landmark study in the late 1960s and early 1970s used marshmallows and cookies to assess the ability of preschool children to delay gratification. A 2011 follow-up revisited some of the same children, now adults.
A pernicious paradox in human motivation is the occasional reduced performance associated with tasks and situations that involve larger-than-average rewards. Three broad explanations that might account for such performance decrements are attentional competition (distraction theories), inhibition by conscious processes (explicit-monitoring theories), and excessive drive and arousal (overmotivation theories).
Here, we report incentive-dependent performance decrements in humans in a reward-pursuit task; subjects were less successful in capturing a more valuable reward in a computerized maze. Concurrent functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that increased activity in ventral midbrain, a brain area associated with incentive motivation and basic reward responding, correlated with both reduced number of captures and increased number of near-misses associated with imminent high rewards. These data cast light on the neurobiological basis of choking under pressure and are consistent with overmotivation accounts.
Following a review of early research on the effects of reinforcement/reward on intrinsic motivation (IM), a meta-analysis of 96 experimental studies that used between-groups designs to compare rewarded Ss to nonrewarded controls on 4 measures of IM is reported. A list of the studies is presented in an appendix. When interaction effects were examined, verbal praise produced an increase in IM. A negative effect appeared when expected tangible rewards were given to individuals simply for doing a task. Under this condition, there was a minimal negative effect on IM as measured by time spent on task following the removal of reward.
Tangible rewards tended to be more detrimental for children than college students, and verbal rewards tended to be less enhancing for children than college students. The authors review 4 previous meta-analyses of this literature and detail how this study's methods, analyses, and results differed from the previous ones. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
Grownups have a good sense of what’s fair. Research now shows that this is true for young children, too. In a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, three-year-old children shared with a peer after they worked together to earn a reward, even in situations where it would be easy for one child to keep all of the spoils for himself.
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