To Reward or Not to Reward – That Is the Question!

The widespread use of gamification today – online, on our credit card statements, even in our car dashboards – seems to suggest that people are motivated by points, discounts, or earning a spot on a public leaderboard. If we didn’t know better, we might assume that offering social recognition or free gifts could be the single most important key to encouraging behavior change – like getting people to exercise more or volunteer in their local communities.

But in reality, motivating behavior change is much more complicated than slapping a points system on top of an existing product or service. What motivates individuals to behave in certain ways is not only complex, it is sometimes counterintuitive.

Did you know that paying people to participate in volunteer activities can actually reduce the effort they put in? Or that publicly recognizing charitable contributions can decrease involvement?

Although these reactions seem surprising, findings from fields like cognitive psychology and behavioral economics can shed light on why they occur. Armed with insights from these fields, we can better understand what really motivates people, and why some incentives just don’t work.

In “Designing to Incentivize,” we’ll walk you through strategies to help you apply these insights to your own projects, so you can accurately predict how people would use them. We will give you tips on:

  • Aligning your offerings with seven key motivators of human behavior
  • How (not) to use free gifts
  • How (not) to use social recognition
  • How (not) to use financial rewards


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