Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

How to motivate students to perform better in school

MotivationEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

I am always looking for new tricks to help motivate kids to perform better in school and I recently read an interesting report from some researchers from the University of Chicago. They performed tests on children in under-performing schools to determine if money or a trophy could motivate a student to better grades.

The researchers wanted to know if the money would motivate the students, how much money it would take to motivate them and how quickly the money would have to be paid out for it to be a motivator. They confirmed that hyperbolic discounting (aka delayed gratification) was in play. This means we put more importance on immediate gratification and overly discount near future gratification.

Keeping hyperbolic discounting in mind and knowing that the real payoff for education is very far out in the future, we understand why the students don’t see that as a motivating factor. It is too far in the future to carry any weight. By paying a student for good grades, you are providing some (almost) immediate gratification which is a strong motivator.

Without going into the nitti gritty of the tests, here are their main conclusions: 

  • Money is a motivator. The researchers also discovered that the amount of money has an impact on the amount of motivation. This means a student will be more motivated for $80 than $40.
  • They discovered that losing a reward was more powerful than gaining it. This means that instead of giving them $20 for an A grade, you give them $20 and say they will have to give it back if they don’t get an A (this is called loss aversion).
  • Non monetary rewards like trophies worked better for young children.
  • They confirmed that delayed gratification didn’t work. Telling a student you will give them $20 in 3 weeks if they get an A on an exam.

I really liked this research because it is immediately actionable with your kids. The next time you want to motivate your young one to perform better, remember that cash is king.