365 Ways to Persuade And Motivate: #8 Use The Right Reward

Picture of a rat in a skinner boxSince starting to write the last few blog posts on rewards I’ve had some questions on what is a reward. So I thought I’d take this blog to write about what makes a reward a reward and how to pick the “right” one.

When B.F. Skinner researched rewards he didn’t call them rewards. He called them “reinforcers”. In his research an effective reinforcer is anything that, when you give it, results in an increase in the desired behavior. Which means that what is an effective reward depends on what a particular person feels is an effective reward. The list of possible rewards or reinforcers is infinite. What is it that a person might want? Here are some common reinforcers:

  • Money
  • Discounts
  • Food
  • Sex
  • Attention
  • Praise
  • Love
  • Fun

And on and on. In order to pick an effective reward, ideally you know your audience and you know what they want. If you haven’t done that research, then you will be using trial and error to figure out what an effective reward is for your audience. I suggest you do some research ahead of time so you know what to use as a reward for your particular audience and situation.

What do you think? How do you go about picking what is the best reward?

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #7 Give Rewards Unpredictably To Sustain A Behavior

picture of slot machines on a casino floorIn the last blog post I wrote about using a continuous reinforcement schedule when you want to establish a new behavior. And I hinted that you should change that schedule after the behavior is established.

One of the reward “schedules” that BF Skinner researched is called a variable ratio schedule. It’s called “variable” because you don’t reward the behavior every time. You vary how often the person gets a reward when they do the target behavior. And it’s called “ratio” because you give a reward based on the number of times a person has done the behavior (rather than, for example, rewarding someone based on time – for example giving a reward the first time the person does the behavior after 5 minutes has elapsed).

In a variable ratio schedule you may decide that you are going to reward the behavior, on average, every 5 times the person does the behavior, but you vary it, so sometimes you give the reward the third time they do the behavior, sometimes the 7th time, sometimes the 2nd time, etc. It averages out to every 5 times.

Let’s take the example of trying to get your employee to turn in expense reports on time. At first you would reward them every time they turn in the expense report on time (as we discussed in the previous blog post on continuous reinforcement).

Once the behavior is established, however, you would then switch to only rewarding them every 3 or 5 or 7 times on average. This is the variable ratio schedule.

Skinner found that variable ratio schedules have two benefits:

a)    they result in the most instances of the behavior than any of the other schedules (i.e., people  will keep handing in the expense report on time), and

b)   they result in behaviors that Skinner said were “hard to extinguish”, which is “psychology speak” for the idea that the behavior persists over time, even when rewards aren’t being given any more.

If you want to see another example of a variable ratio schedule, go to a casino. Slot machines are a very effective example of a variable ratio schedule. The casinos have studied the science of rewards and they use them to get people to play and keep playing.

Can you think of any more variable ratio schedule examples that you’ve experienced or tried?

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #6 Reward Every Time To Establish A New Behavior

Picture that says reward pointsRewards are one of the most common ways that people think of to get other people to do stuff. In the talks that I give on the topic I tell people that rewards are actually one of the least effective ways to get people to do stuff! Rewards are one of the seven ways I cover in my book How To Get People To Do Stuff. And almost all of the other 6 are more powerful than using rewards.

But, having given that caveat, people are used to giving and receiving rewards. So if you are going to use rewards to motivate people, you’d better know the science behind rewards. There are effective ways to use rewards and ineffective ways.

in the 1950’s B.F. Skinner researched rewards — when to give them and how often to give them. He described reward “schedules” and the effect of using different schedules. For example, should you reward someone every time they do the behavior you are looking for? Or just sometimes?

In this post I want to tackle the question of what schedule to use if you are trying to establish a new behavior. In future posts I’ll cover what kind of reward schedule to use after the behavior is established.

Let’s say that you have an employee that doesn’t turn in his expense reports on time. You decide to try out using rewards to encourage him to get the expense reports in. Since he currently doesn’t ‘do this behavior, you are trying to establish a new behavior. In this situation the best thing to do is to reward him every time he turns his expense report in on time.

Or, in another example, let’s say that you want your customers to use a new feature  of your software that you provide as an online app. It’s new, so they aren’t used to using it. It hasn’t become part of their usual way of using your product. You should reward them (for example, with points, or a credit towards next month’s bill) every time that they use the feature.

These are examples of “continuous reinforcement schedules” — you reward every time the behavior occurs. In the next blog post I’ll explain what you should do after the new behavior is established. So stay tuned!

What do you think? Have you tried using rewards to get people to do stuff? Have you tried using a continuous reinforcement schedule to establish new behavior?

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.


100 Things You Should Know About People: #80 — Behavior Can Be Shaped

Picture of a slot machineIf you studied psychology years ago, you may remember BF Skinner and his work during the 20th century on operant conditioning. Skinner studied whether behavior increased or decreased based on how often, and in what manner, you provide a “reinforcement” (reward).

What the casinos know — Let’s say you put a rat in a cage with a bar. If the rat presses the bar he gets a food pellet. The food pellet is called the reinforcement. But what if you set it up so that the rat does not get the food pellet every time he presses the bar. Skinner tested out various scenarios, and found that how often you give the food pellet, and whether you give it based on time or bar presses, affected how often the rat would press the bar. Here’s a synopsis of the different schedules:

Interval Schedules – You provide a food pellet after a certain interval of time has passed, for example, 5 minutes. The first time the rat presses the bar after 5 minutes is up, then he gets a food pellet.

Ratio Schedules – Instead of basing the reinforcement on time, instead you base it on the number of bar presses. For example, you provide a food pellet after every 10 bar presses. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #80 — Behavior Can Be Shaped”