Should I Offer a Reward?

You would think that offering a reward would be the best motivator of people, but scientific research has actually shown that monetary incentives can actually backfire.

Here's a science lesson to explain why:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, have pinpointed the neurophysiology behind offering a reward verses simply asking for help. In one study they used an MRI machine and monitored brain activity and discovered that there are two very different areas of the brain that process thoughts of either seeking financial compensation or being charitable. The nucleus accumbens is a primitive part of the brain that is a known as the “pleasure center” and it is where we respond to financial compensation.

On the other hand, the posterior superior temporal sulcus is the area of our brain that responds to social interactions and is known as the “altruism center”.

According the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by researchers Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, “the pleasure center and the altruism center cannot both function at the same time: either one or the other is in control.” The authors pointed out studies that prove that “we can approach a task either altruistically or from a self-interested perspective” and that these two different areas of the brain “run on different fuels and need different amounts of those fuels” to work. They also pointed out that it does not take much to activate the altruism center. The book states, “all you need is the sense that you’re helping someone or making a positive impact—but the pleasure center seems to need a lot more.”

Offering rewards could encourage untrained people who’re only interested in financial compensation to chase after lost pets, leading to tragic consequences or at the very least, making a recovery by trained professionals and/or community volunteers very difficult.

However, using social media with large posters that state “PLEASE HELP!” may instead appeal to the “altruism center” of the brain of community members and animal lovers who are more interested in helping people and lost pets than in receiving a reward.

Information thanks to