The dark side of monetary incentive: how does extrinsic reward crowd out intrinsic motivation

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It was widely believed that incentives could effectively enhance the motivation of both students and employees. However, psychologists reported that extrinsic reward actually could undermine individuals’ intrinsic motivation to a given interesting task, which challenged viewpoints from traditional incentive theories. Numerous studies have been carried out to test and explain the undermining effect; however, the neural basis of this effect is still elusive. Here, we carried out an electrophysiological study with a simple but interesting stopwatch task to explore to what extent the performance-based monetary reward undermines individuals’ intrinsic motivation toward the task. The electrophysiological data showed that the differentiated feedback-related negativity amplitude toward intrinsic success failure divergence was prominently reduced once the extrinsic reward was imposed beforehand. However, such a difference was not observed in the control group, in which no extrinsic reward was provided throughout the experiment. Furthermore, such a pattern was not observed for P300 amplitude. Therefore, the current results indicate that extrinsic reward demotivates the intrinsic response of individuals toward success–failure outcome, which was reflected in the corresponding reduced motivational-related differentiated feedback-related negativity, but not in amplitude of P300.

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