Tag Archives: motivation

Lego Color Bricks


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I am just catching up on some old Wired Magazine reading and I found this gem in the Mr. Know-It-All advice column. A parent wrote in asking if he should motivate his daughter to clean up her Legos by instructing her to sort them by color when putting them away. This was intended to make it more interesting. So why not let your kid decide? Let her dictate the system. Let there be a different system every time. That will generate excitement about cleaning up,…

Is This Overconfidence Bias?

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In WW II, the Air Force was calculating the best way to take Saipan, a key island to set up the final bombing of Japan. They brought in a team of experts to find the plan that would minimize casualties while still maintaining a high probability of success. Objectively, the best plan was to have 25% of the planes carry a full load of bombs and have 75% of the planes stay home. Because of the weight of the bombs, the pilots wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it back. But even assuming all of them died, the 25% casualty rate was less than if they had 100% of the planes go with partial bomb loads and enough fuel to get home. This would likely result in a 30% or higher casualty rate. So the suicide mission was not as callous a strategy as it seems at first. And to make it fair, the pilots would be selected by lottery so they all had an equal chance of being selected.

light switch

Motivational Affordances

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I am pretty sure that most of you are quite familiar with the concept of design affordances, originally proposed by Donald Norman and outlined in his widely read book the Design of Everyday Things. Just in case you are not, design affordances are the action possibilities perceived by the user from the design (as mediated by the context). Human factors designers have been using this idea to create effective designs and to evaluate the designs of others to assess their effectiveness.

Today, I want to share a variation on this theme presented by Sebastian Deterding, a true thought leader in the area of motivational design and gamification, called a motivational affordance.

fruit bar and lunch tray

Smarter Lunchrooms

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I am a member of the Smarter Lunchroom Movement. The organization does research and promotes best practices in the design of K-12 school lunchrooms using behavioral science, persuasive design techniques, ergonomics, social psychology, and other sciences and design methods. Simple things like putting healthier foods within easier reach and at the front of the line (when students’ trays are empty and their budgets are full) and the reverse for the junk food.

cup of coffee

Intrinsic Free Coffee

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I heard about an innovative program being used by Pret-a-Manger that fits in remarkably well to the motivational psychology principles that I am using in my forthcoming book on gamification (yes, shameless plug there!).

You are all very familiar, I am sure, with the typical loyalty programs that retail stores use. You make ten purchases, you get a stamp for each purchase, and then after 10 stamps you get a free whatever. Free coffee at Starbucks. Free book at the bookstore. Free flowers at the florist.


Getting Beyond Extrinsic Rewards

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The Washington Post has a good guest post from Hebrew University Economics Professor Eyal Winter.

The fear of depriving your peers a bonus because of your laziness was a much more meaningful motivator than the fear of losing your own bonus.

a string tied around a finger

Rituals and Symbolic Gestures

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In this season of the New Year’s resolutions, Jayashri Kulkarni from Monash University has some useful insight us to keep in mind.

In my patient’s case, unfortunately, I suspect her New Year’s resolution provided her with the opportunity to procrastinate. Despite comprehensive development of a smoking cessation plan, and extensive knowledge about the dangers to her health, she just didn’t want to give up smoking.

a pile of many coins

Competing “Feel Good” Incentives

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As many of you know, much of my work focuses on user motivation and self-delusion, and how we can design user experiences that account for both of these. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences led by Adam Waytz at Kellogg School of Management brings all of these together in an interesting situation.

This research demonstrates a fundamental cognitive bias driving such conflict intractability: Adversaries attribute their ingroup’s actions to ingroup love more than outgroup hate and attribute their outgroup’s actions to outgroup hate more than ingroup love…

many old cars parked in front of meters

The Ethics of Performance versus Principle

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This is another metric tradeoff that is of great interest to me, both professionally and philosophically. What do you do when your design process is faced with a tradeoff between two options: one that will work better but violates a principle that you think is important (but is not formally illegal or unethical) and one that works less well but has no such violations? This is top of mind with me this morning because of a debate we are having in Boston about P2P parking apps like Haystack. If you are unfamiliar with these apps, they allow someone who is leaving a parking spot to announce it on the app network and someone looking for a spot can grab it, for a fee of course.

money and a watch

Motivational Priming

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My research in the domain of human motivation has had a profound influence on me. I never realized how important the distinction is between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When we are motivated intrinsically, we become dedicated, passionate, and persistent. When we are motivated extrinsically, we get tunnel vision on the reward and become less concerned with the underlying activity. This can result in lower quality of performance if we can get the reward through shortcuts. A recent study by Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School found something quite powerful…