Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes

The idea that competition and reward are effective motivators forms the bedrock of our educational, economic, and managerial systems. Kohn, though, has strongly attacked the belief that competition is healthy and has documented its negative effects in No Contest: The Case against Competition (1986). Now he challenges the widely held assumption that incentives lead to improved quality and increased output in the workplace and in schools. He notes that the system of rewards and punishment is based on Pavlovian and Skinnerian behavioral theories, which are supported largely by experiments with laboratory animals. Kohn derides rewards as bribes and offers instead the proposition that collaboration (teamwork), content (meaningfulness), and choice (autonomy) will serve to motivate both students and workers. He marshals impressive theoretical support and, at the same time, uses humor disarmingly to argue his case. — David Rouse

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