Punished by Rewards

I’m reading the book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, at the suggestion of Jonathan Blow. It’s incredibly interesting, and I think should be required reading for most adults. It is interesting for game design, but also for managers, teachers, parents, and I would think most other people.

The purpose of the book is to examine and explain why systems of rewards are counterproductive. Backed by the evidence of many, many psychological studies, it explains that reward systems:

  • effectively are the same as punishments—they create punishments
  • destroy relationships both between the givers and receivers of rewards, and between peers attempting to earn rewards
  • ignore the underlying reasons that people do not behave as we may wish them to
  • discourage risk-taking and creative thought, and
  • destroy intrinsic motivation.

I think this understanding is sorely needed, since most of the world is based on reward systems. As a society we are effectively crippling ourselves with them.

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