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Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,819 Ratings  ·  197 Reviews
The basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way we train the family pet. Drawing on a wealth of psychological research, Alfie Kohn points the way to a more successful strategy b ...more
Paperback, 430 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by Mariner Books
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Karin
My daughter's gr. 1 teacher just announced that if the kids read 100 books, they'd get a reward. Instead of being enthusiastic, or eager to read, DD just got upset and worried that now she can't get the reward because 100 seemed way too many. How different is 100 from a bazillion to a gr. 1 kid who barely knows how to count that high?

Reading this book helped me to understand that frustration, and non-interest is a normal reaction to bribery. Kohn states that kids and adults alike see both rewa
...more
Elizabeth  Fuller
Aug 12, 2007 Elizabeth Fuller rated it really liked it
A lot of what the author says - that the use of rewards as motivators (for children, students, employees, etc.) is not only ineffective, but often detrimental to morale and motivation - makes a lot of sense, and certainly represents a fresh perspective. Despite this, however, I couldn't shake a lingering feeling of disagreement. Not that I don't believe his arguments...but I also don't think he leaves enough room for individual difference. For example, while I do agree with him that intrinsic mo ...more
Sharlee
Mar 27, 2008 Sharlee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers, parents, any person in a management position
Recommended to Sharlee by: College peers/professors
As a college student, I had been very interested in Alfie Kohn's philosophies. After graduating and getting a job much sooner than expected, I decided to read this book. I am amazed by how much we control other people with rewards. I've never been a fan of behaviorism...in any form. Which doesn't make me widely popular as a teacher. My students were stunned when I took over and explained that I do not give treats for asking questions or learning. I also explained to them that they are not dogs a ...more
Beth A.
May 08, 2009 Beth A. rated it liked it
Recommended to Beth A. by: Laura Dotson
Shelves: nonfiction, parenting
I love parenting books, and I love exploring different ideas on how to parent , but this one was more difficult for me. The first few chapters are based on the assumption that no one human has the right to control another person. The idea is abhorrent to Kohn. This may be true in the workplace, but for parenting and to a lesser degree schooling, there are times when even the most lenient parent must have some control. You can’t exactly reason with a two year old that running in the street isn’t ...more
Lisa Delaine Youngblood
Nov 27, 2012 Lisa Delaine Youngblood rated it it was amazing
I have never read a book that so questioned societal norms, nor have I ever altered my views so much based on the concepts introduced in a book. The title of this book explains exactly what readers can expect. As with any book discussing parenting skills, work levels, and manipulation, readers will have to determine for themselves whether or not they can agree, disagree, or at least rethink their previous opinions. This book requires readers to look closely at the heart of motivations -- both in ...more
Marshall
May 31, 2010 Marshall rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Parents, Teachers, Managers
Recommended to Marshall by: Joanie
I didn't give this book a 5 for fantastic writing. Although, Kohn is funny and insightful at times but he is also kind of repetitive (if you only read the first 5 chapters you'd learn everything you needed to know about the problem with rewards). The ideas in this book rang true to me as I read them. For example, achieving short-term compliance from my kids by offering them rewards (go get ready for bed without a fight and I'll read you stories until 7:30) is not only manipulative and selfish mo ...more
Brittney Christensen
To sum it up, this book is how we are slaves and make each other slaves to rewards when, if fact rewards are actaully shown to decrease intrinsic motivation. Case studies showed children who were given a reward if they played with certain toys and then, once that reward was taken, the children were turned off to that toy. When I read it, I loved it. It seemed inspired and appealed to my soft spot for rebellion. I felt that the this might what was wring with public education.

Now, that I am finish
...more
Jennifer
Oct 02, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it
The overarching premise of this book is that rewarding people can actually decrease the desired behavior. When people are manipulated by "if you do [x], then you get [y]" type rewards, the extrinsic motivator (the reward) starts to replace any intrinsic motivation the person might have towards the task and are much less likely to continue the behavior if/when the rewards stop. One quote that stuck out to me was that programs like "Book It!" (Pizza Hut) only serve to produce fat kids who hate rea ...more
Kate
Apr 13, 2013 Kate rated it liked it
this book is so great in the one main thing it set out to do, which is to point out 1) how totally saturated our culture is in giving people rewards to act the way you want them to (behavioralism, a notion/technique popularized by BF Skinner but around for ages), and 2) to point out all the subsequent research showing how giving rewards for a task/attitude/behavior kills the positive relationship between the doer and the deed. If you start paying kids to play their favorite game, they lose inter ...more
Clint
Aug 29, 2010 Clint rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
A great book. The book is written for two audiences, educators and business professionals. I only had to read the sections that pertained to education, but after reading them, I am curious to know if the business world is like the education world. I will not praise Alfie for writing a well informed book, but simply acknowledge that it is. Teaching second grade, I can already see in 7yr olds how praise, rewards, and other behavior manipulators have altered there perspective of life. The "whats in ...more
Keith Kendall
Apr 02, 2012 Keith Kendall rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
By Alfie Kohn

Alas the book challenges so many of our cherished beliefs that I am beginning to see the the loss of motivation in a new light. It is disconcerting to see how widely his critique applies.


"Skinner spent his life denying the idea of choice and urging us to control reinforcers in the environment since they, in turn, control us." (p. 30)

The most notable aspect of a positive judgment is not that it is positive but that it is a judgment. (Page 102)

The legendary statistical consultant W. E
...more
Deborah
Jan 25, 2008 Deborah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: educators, managers, parents
As a self-motivated person who takes pride in a job well done, I've always felt that incentives at school and in the workplace served to undermine the value of my personal achievements. Due to this perspective, Alfie Kohn's book resonated well with me; however there are some who feel that nothing is worth doing if it doesn't result in a $5 Starbucks card, a flimsy certificate, or some such trivial token. Such people will not like this book.

My one criticism of the book is that it begins to feel r
...more
Kristen Hovet
Mar 23, 2014 Kristen Hovet rated it it was amazing
A life-changer. This has changed my perspective on parenting, counselling, teaching, and being the subject of so many incentive programs and extrinsic motivators.

Well-written and clear, with compelling arguments and research overviews.
Sherry (sethurner)
It has been a while since I read Alfie Kohn's book. I heard him speak at a teachers' convention and was intrigued by his assertion that teachers and parents kill children's motivation by offering rewards/bribes. So, candy, stickers, certificates, cash and other incentives really don't motivate! It went along with my casual observation that students to whom I sent commendations soon lost their commendabe behaviors, and it went along with a university class I took in the 80's about motivational th ...more
Megan Cooper
Mar 19, 2013 Megan Cooper rated it really liked it
Shelves:
A must read for parents, teachers, bosses. A little alarming, and left me wondering what to do in lieu of all the praises and rewards (although Mindset, as I recall, does offer both solutions and food for thought on how to just give useful feedback, and what that is). Well-researched, articulate; those who disagree would need to provide a lot of evidence to dispute the many findings that support the cautions in this book. And an afterward talks specifically about Accelerated Reader, something I' ...more
Arlene S
(1993) Thought provoking, cogent, and convincing -- with an undercurrent (or undertow !) of democratic socialism. (His "anti-rewards" ideas-- may be good in theory, but likely this is one of the cases where theories are tricky to put into practice. He gives few if any alternative viable solutions.) Critics challenge the depth of Kohn's literature review and note the selectivity of his research examples, skewing toward negative outcomes for rewards, and see great philosophical bias displayed. As ...more
Alok
Apr 26, 2015 Alok rated it it was amazing
I am a firm believer that the work obeys classical economics to first order. I personally take great enjoyment in maximising the value I receive from things. But I realise now that the reason I like to do it is because I enjoy the optimisation process and solving puzzles - often the benefit from the optimisation comes as a bit of a bonus.

The central idea is that rewards decrease intrinsic motivation, reduce enjoyment of the thing itself. Since reading the book, I have stopped rewarding my kids f
...more
Elizabethe
Dec 09, 2014 Elizabethe rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Everyone in America should read Part 1 of this book. This book was written in 1993 and revised in 1999, but it is still very influential and the culture Kohn argues against is still pervasive. Kohn's basic argument is that much of the way we attempt to incentivize people is based on a view of humanity informed by pop-behaviorism. Behaviorism fundamentally denies the personhood of humanity, seeing humans as nothing more than the sum total of their actions. There is no self, no soul, no conscience ...more
Quinton
This book elaborates some research by Deci on motivation and how there can be counter-intuitive effects in some cases. I think there's a bit of a risk that the book tries to generalize a bit too much from too little. I'm basically a huge fan of the insight though and once you know about it, you'll start to see it everywhere and just have to shake your head. This obviously has enormous social import and so that's all the more reason to insist that we get it exactly right and make the most compell ...more
Amanda
Nov 17, 2009 Amanda rated it really liked it
Kohn articulates a lot of the concerns I have had with the overuse of rewards in the schools. I don't agree with everything he says (e.g. he thinks the whole grading system should be done away with), but most of it made a lot of sense to me. I wish more teachers would read this, and stop using so much candy and other bribes to get kids to learn. (Especially the candy!)
Jamieanna
Jul 07, 2015 Jamieanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes which debunks the myth that rewards and punishments can effectively control and change human behavior. Kohn builds his argument by dismantling America’s love affair with“pop behaviorism,” which Arthur Koestler, author of The Act of Creation, describes as “For the anthropomorphic view of the rat, American psychology substituted a rattomoprhic view of man” (3). One of the most impo ...more
Katie
Dec 27, 2013 Katie rated it liked it
Shelves:
Not done yet, but writing this in case I don't finish it. It seems like an interesting idea, but it also seems like it could be a fraction of the size and be helpfully more succinct. I wish I knew where he was going with the whole thing....
Leanna Aker
Apr 13, 2015 Leanna Aker rated it it was amazing
So, I admit, I put this on my list because as a doctoral student in education, I feel I should have read this book. I did not dig Daniel Pink's Drive, which is a similar premise. However, this book rocked.my.world. I do not see how a teacher could read this book and not want to remove all of the silly token society reward systems they use in their classrooms. The book is compelling, cites multiple research studies (with integrity and critical thought), and gives practical suggestions to replace ...more
Corinne Campbell
Jan 17, 2016 Corinne Campbell rated it really liked it
Every, teacher, parent, manager, politician, administrator should read this book.
Brian Mckenna
Dec 17, 2015 Brian Mckenna rated it it was amazing
This book was great. I would say this book should be required reading, but that would go against the very principles the author is espousing. I would, however, recommend it to everyone and anyone.

It is a bit repetitive at times, but given how entrenched behaviorism is throughout every aspect of our lives, it bears repeating. It is already shaping my parenting approaches and making me reconsider why types of schools I want my kids in and what work environments I want to be part of. I knew a lot
...more
Parrish Walsh
Dec 19, 2013 Parrish Walsh rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially those interested in life and motivation
Woah. This one is shocking in that it really challenges the current pop-psychology, behaviorism. Most of our society operates by punishments and rewards (commissions, awards, grades, detentions, sticker charts, etc.) This book challenges the idea that this is the best motivation or motivation at all for people. Kohn shows the research that backs this claim and goes the extra mile to show you how to implement or in some cases remove "carrots and sticks" from your environment be it business, perso ...more
Karin
Apr 14, 2014 Karin rated it really liked it


I have been wanting to read this for a long time and finally got all the way through it. After being a Communication Skills Instructor for 5 years and studying NVC and the like, this is right down my alley. I wish he hadn't spent so much trying to convince me. I am pretty sure those who pick this book up have already questioned common rewards systems. Behaviorism has always rubbed me wrong, but I couldn't articulate why until I started studying communication. Humans have higher brain functions!
...more
Randall
Mar 31, 2014 Randall rated it it was amazing
This book is a scathing indictment of common practices and beliefs that are pervasive in our society, and thereby radical, although the evidence, dutifully presented, shows that experts are increasingly aware of the problem.

Kohn argues a strong case against rewards and punishments in all aspects of life, focusing on parenting, management, and teaching. The examples illuminate the pervasiveness of Skinnerian thinking in our society and the results of the experiments Kohn relies upon paint a truly
...more
Liz DeMar
Nov 03, 2013 Liz DeMar rated it liked it
A bit verbose at times, particularly for the person already acquainted with Kohn's work. Kohn captivates by presenting study after study that demonstrate how rewards simply do not work. Pay for performance? Doesn't work. Grades for performance? Doesn't work. Bribery for child's behavior? Experience tells every parent that any benefits are fleeting. Not only do rewards not work, but ultimately they prove damaging. Offer a reward and you can watch productivity and creativity decline. People who ar ...more
Shannah
Mar 08, 2012 Shannah rated it it was amazing
Shelves:
I think everyone who interacts with students or employees ought to be required to read this book, since it debunks the myth of rewards as the best motivation at school or work. *spoiler alert* Skinnerian behaviorism is thoroughly discredited.

At times it was hard to keep reading, since I kept getting freaked out about my kids and their schooling. I worry all the time that their joy in learning, their creativity, and their ability to make their own decisions in life are being crushed right out of
...more
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Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of eleven books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.

Kohn's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken
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“Some who support [more] coercive strategies assume that children will run wild if they are not controlled. However, the children for whom this is true typically turn out to be those accustomed to being controlled— those who are not trusted, given explanations, encouraged to think for themselves, helped to develop and internalize good values, and so on. Control breeds the need for more control, which is used to justify the use of control.” 21 likes
“In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don't have it for long.” 19 likes
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