Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Motivate with instant rewards

Timing of a reward may matter more for intrinsic motivation

Rewarding people while they are working on a task, rather than when it is finished, can boost motivation, a study has found.

According to researchers from Cornell University in the US, people who got a bonus earlier were more motivated to pursue the activity for its own sake, and continued with the activity even when “the reward was removed".

In one of the experiments carried out as part of the study, subjects were asked to complete a task that involved spotting differences in two images. Some subjects expected a bonus as soon as they finished the task, while others expected the same in a month. Compared with a delayed reward, an immediate bonus led to an almost 20% increase in the number of people sticking to the task after the reward was removed.

In another experiment, the researchers found that an immediate bonus to finish reading a piece of text led to a 35% increase in the number of people continuing to read after the reward was removed, while a larger reward only led to a 19% increase. This suggests that the timing of a reward may matter more for intrinsic motivation. For example, a series of smaller, more frequent bonuses throughout the year could motivate employees more than a larger end-of-the-year bonus.