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The “Take-Away” Effect

12 Jan

As the parent of three, I’m always on the hunt for ways to incentivize (bribe) them to do what I want. Now, you may be tempted to believe that incentivizing children is the easy way out – or even wrong. But, think about it this way: We’re all “incentivized.” Would you show up for work if you weren’t getting paid?

Recently, I read something that’s really helped me get the most of my incentivizing strategy. According to research, the loss you feel when something is taken away far exceeds the gain you feel from getting something. In a study, high school students were given a $20 bill and told they could keep the $20 if they performed well on a test. But, if they failed, they would lose the $20. As the $20 was sitting in front of them, many imagined how they would spend it, which motivated them to do very well on the test. And, most of them did. 

However, when researchers just PROMISED $20 to anyone who did well on the test, the results weren’t nearly as good. Only a few did well. Turns out, the promise of something they never had didn’t quite motivate them as much as the thought of GIVING UP something they already had.

I’ve asked lots of parents to try it out at home, and they report fantastic results. They’ll buy a toy, “give” it to the child – let the child hold it and look at it, and let them know they can have it if they just do ________. The kids respond much better than if Mom or Dad just promises them a toy without letting them see and touch it first.

It’s a strategy worth trying-out anyway. The research doesn’t lie – it just unveils a basic human virtue: We don’t like to give things up!

Britt

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