This paradoxical finding that rewards under- mine intrinsic motivation has been observed for many years in laboratory and field studies. By making people feel controlled rather than autonomous, various extrinsic factors commonly found in the workplace—deadlines, punishment, close supervision, evaluation, and competition—also have adverse effects on motivation and performance. Thus, Teresa Amabile (1996) found that people who were paid for artistic activities, compared with others who were not paid, produced work that was later judged to be less creative by independent raters. To be maximally productive, people should feel internally driven, not compelled by outside forces.
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But wait. If money undermines intrinsic motivation, should employers not use monetary incentives? Does this mean that pay-for-performance programs often used in the workplace are doomed to fail? This certainly is implied by the title of Alfie Kohn’s (2018) book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. To answer these questions, it’s important to realize that any given reward can be interpreted in two ways, depending on how it is presented. On the one hand, being offered payment can make a person feel bribed, bought off, and controlled, which can result in the detrimental effects just described. On the other hand, rewards often provide people with positive feedback about the quality of their performance, as when people earn bonuses, scholarships, and verbal praise from others they respect.