How a bonus can destroy creativity

How a bonus can destroy creativity

In our society as it is today, a lot of emphasis is put on individual achievements and they are often rewarded with bonuses. If we think of humans as egoistic and self-centered this makes perfect sense.

Research shows, however, that bonuses and punishment often have a reverse effect. For example they take away the pleasure in doing the act itself and replace it with the pleasure of getting a bonus.

How we lose creativity and internal motivation

A loss of intrinsic motivation is seen in really young children: rewarding children for drawing a picture will take away the pleasure of drawing itself. Instead the pleasure of getting a reward is set up.

Giving a reward for drawing once will influence the child for a long time. The next time the child will expect a reward and if you do not give her a reward she will not draw.

Creativity also decreases

Not only is intrinsic motivation lost, there is also a loss in creativity. Having to think about a reward, makes that one’s brain is focused on this idea. That leaves less room for other thoughts.

Telling someone he will get a bonus if he does real well will get him to try hard, but with blinders on. In another experiment, where (grown-up) people had to creatively find a solution with the offered materials, they measured how much quicker those were that got a 100€ reward. Those that were not offered a reward were both more creative in their solutions and faster in finding a solution.

A bonus can be useful

If you have to do something that is really boring, or mainly needs some trigger to get done (laying bricks, picking strawberries) rewarding the amount of work done is a great idea.

When creativity is needed it is questionable to reward people with a bonus. The capacity that should be used for getting to creative solutions is occupied with thinking about the bonus.

Reading suggestion

Would you like to read some more on this topic? Look for Dan Ariely and you will find tons of examples and nice research.

More into watching? Enjoy the video below.

Image courtesy of Isphere/



Innovation and Research Officer at Sugar Habits
Judith studied behavioral change (applied social psychology) and is currently finishing her masters in philosophy with special attention for philosophy of action and intentionality. She works for SugarHabits a social media platform that helps people unlock more of their potential through learning new habits.

Latest posts by judithmartens (see all)

Comments are closed.