I first read, Punished by rewards : the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) about 6 years ago. I recently reread it as a result of some other reading that I had been doing, and I wrote about this here.

Generally speaking the world operates on the system, “Do this and you’ll get that.” So we use rewards and punishments to entice children, students and employees to perform. Kohn, however, objects to the use of rewards and punishments and explains his position by saying, “The trouble with rewards is not that we hand them out too easily; it is that they are controlling, ultimately ineffective, and likely to undermine intrinsic interest” (pg. 115-116). Kohn includes much research to back up this statement. He also explains why we continue to use rewards and punishments in the face of overwhelming research that says they are not effective in the long term. Kohn explains, “Extrinsic motivators are hard to discredit, not only because many people have no idea what to do instead, but also because they get the job done” (pg. 160). So in the short term extrinsic motivators do work but they cause long term problems because they result in people losing interest in the assigned task.

Kohn particularly addresses the use of rewards and punishments in the home, in the school and in the work place, giving examples of the research that has been done in these areas. He believes we need to take more time in communicating the purpose of a task, developing skills, encouraging an atmosphere of learning, and fostering a commitment to good values rather than take taking short cuts through the use of rewards and punishments.

I found this to be a fascinating look at the way we discipline, educate and instruct people and well worth a read.