Distinct, simple strategy sparks motivation


Rochita Ghosh

It is 11 p.m., a time when much of the population is fast asleep. For some high school students, however, it is the prime time to finally begin slaving away at their assignments, having procrastinated the past few hours away on Netflix or YouTube. Much of this group often feels unsatisfied with their decision when later suffering from sleep deprivation and attempt methods of motivation like rewarding oneself upon completing a task.
Junior Chase Ford often finds himself in the group of people that stays up late to do work. This leaves him no other option except trying a variety of things to motivate himself, including the reward system method — nothing has proved fruitful for him thus far.
“My typical method for self-motivation is usually based on the deadline. For example, if I don’t finish this chemistry worksheet I’m not going to be accepted into college,” Ford said. “[I] like the idea of putting a reward in place; however, I usually just skip straight to the reward and avoid the work.”
Hope exists for Ford yet; a new study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania shakes the integrity of the reward system by revealing a new way to boost motivation.
The research team asked four groups of people to walk 7,000 steps a day for six months — they provided the first group with no incentive and the second with $1.40 per day, or $42 per month.
For the third, the team provided a lottery ticket to win the same amount, and gave the fourth group $42 at the start of the month, and told them that for every day that they did not complete their goal, the researchers would take away $1.40.
The last group later proved to be the most successful at walking 7,000 steps by a margin of almost 50 percent, suggesting a fear of loss to be the most effective motivator for subjects in the study.
While Honors Biology teacher Kaitlin EuDaly does not utilize this approach to inspire her students, preferring to try to get her students to see the value of their work, she believes RBHS inherently uses the ideas behind the method.
“I think that’s kind of a way [RBHS] functions. Not necessarily a motivation of fear, but we allow students a lot of flexibility and freedom. If that is not used properly or responsibly, then in theory, those things would get revoked,” EuDaly said. “Obviously, a high school student values and desires [these things] and is motivated to keep their AUT or a seat in class. Then, the motivation is if you show me that you can do that, then you get to keep it.”
It is for these reasons that EuDaly believes the method could prove useful in a classroom setting, especially when guiding students toward developing internal motivation.
“As teachers, we would love if all of our students were intrinsically motivated, but the reality is that’s just not the case. So, I think having some sort of extrinsic motivation is important and helps our students move from [that] type of motivation,” EuDaly said. “I think a lot of research shows that punishment isn’t necessarily a good motivator but either positive or negative reinforcement, so this [method] kind of goes in with that.”
infographic by Megan Goyette; source: Psychology Today