For this blog post I decided to write about a recent conversation I had with my girlfriend. I find it really hard to find motivation for studying through my final year, and as the year is reaching the finish line with upcoming exams this problem became more and more apparent. This is how it sounded like (it is not word-to-word as it was a conversation):
Me: Exams are just around the corner and with this tempo I‘m going to get nowhere.
Girlfriend: So study more then, or is there just too much of information to learn?
Me: Well, at this moment it might be, but anyway I am really far from the pace of studying I could have if I tried more.
Girlfriend: Well, just think about it this way, it‘s only a couple of months until your final exam, probably ever. So just try to put your head down and dive in, you can do it!
Me: I know, but I‘ve been trying this out throughout the whole year and it does not really bring any results to me..
Girlfriend: Okay, I have an idea. When we talk on the phone in the evening you will tell me what would be a realistic target with a rather high level of performance to learn for tomorrow. Like how many weeks of a particular module you want to go through and so on.
Me: Okay, but I knew I have to study all the time anyway.
Girlfriend: That‘s not all. When we‘re on the phone next evening, you will tell me if you have reached that target or not. We will do this every day until your last exam. And I am going to make a note every day if you reach the target or not. And then the more times you will have reached your target, the bigger surprise awaits for you after exams before our holidays. Plus, I know that you‘re behind now, but if you manage to get a higher average mark from your exams than what you planned in september, there will be another surprise throughout the holidays.
Me: Well, that just sounds great! Sad that I can‘t get ir right by myself, but I do feel like I can do it.
Girlfriend: No cheating though, okay? After all, it is your studies and it is you who is going to lose in your exams in the end if you cheat. Okay?
Pritchard and Curtis (1973) looked into the contribution of incentives on task performance. There were 87 participants in the study. All of them were students from introductory psychology subject pool at Purdue University. They received experimental credit for participation as well as any money they earned during the experiment. The task for the subjects was to sort 24 shuffled practice cards into 12 corresponding position (2 cards for each position). Each card contained information possible for categorization (sex – male/female, education – finished/didn‘t finish high school, income level – under $5000/$5000-10,000/over $10,000), making it possible 12 configurations (2 x 2 x 3). Participants had to sort them as quickly as they could. A rest period of approximately two minutes was given. After that one of the five experimental manipulations were given: A) goal setting with 1) no incentive, 2) 50 cent incentive, 3) $3.00 incentive; B) no goal setting with 1) incentive, 2) no incentive. The results of the study can be seen in Fig. 1.
As you can see, incentives seem to play a big role in task performance. When there is no goal set, an improvement in the task is seen. However, no difference was seen between no incentive and the low incentive condition when a goal was set.
In this situation, incentives seem to be working as well. The goal was for me to go through more studying material everyday and I can definitely see an increase already. There is another incentive if I reach the second set goal (getting higher average exam grades than expected) but I cannot say whether that worked yet.
Pritchard, R. D., & Curtis, M. I. (1973). The influence of goal setting and financial incentives on task performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 10, 175-183.