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In his book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes, Alfie Kohn presents a compelling argument against the use of rewards. Kohn discusses the parallels between punishments and rewards and suggests that both are punitive in nature: both exercise control, and if one does not receive the expected reward for any reason, the withholding of the reward is a form of punishment (51-2). Kohn states that “both rewards and punishments induce a behavior pattern whereby we try to impress and curry favor with the person who hands them out” (58).
While many believe “that we are supposed to stop punishing and criticizing and instead attempt to “catch people doing something right” and reward them with privileges or praise”, Kohn offers an alternative to behavioral motivational techniques (50). Reasons for curtailing use of punishments and rewards are numerous. Rewards do not promote collaboration, working together, or a sense of community; they create an environment in which “everyone else is a potential obstacle to one’s own success” (54-5). Rewards imply that if a reward is necessary, the subject or task must be undesirable (77). Additionally, this perception hinders learning, optimal performance, and the desire to be challenged (159). Kohn states that, “rewards, like punishments, actually undermine the intrinsic motivation that promotes optimal performance” (69).
Punishment and reward rely on the idea that motivation is “nothing more than the manipulation of behavior” (51). If this is true, rewards do not address the root causes of the behaviors people want to modify (59-60). If one does not identify and address the root cause of the behavior, it will continue regardless of the reward or punishment applied.
Kohn uses a simple illustration to demonstrate his point; “the question is not whether more flies can be caught with honey than with vinegar, but why the flies are ...