An Equation for Happiness

August 8, 2014

An interesting article by some researchers from the University College in London describes the equation they constructed and tested that predicts happiness.

A key part of the equation is that it relates happiness to the difference between people’s expectations of rewards and the actual rewards.

… we show that emotional reactivity in the form of momentary happiness in response to outcomes of a probabilistic reward task is explained not by current task earnings, but by the combined influence of recent reward expectations and prediction errors arising from those expectations.

— Rutledge et al., 2014. A computational and neural model of momentary
subjective well-being
, in PNAS Early Edition.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. An Equation for Happiness, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Overjustification Effect: Rewards Inhibit Intrinsic Motivation

July 15, 2013

Kids become less intrinsically motivated to do something when they expect a reward — grades, gold stars, special privileges — for doing them. In fact, when you take away the reward they’ll stop doing things they were previously interested in doing on their own. It’s called the overjustification effect (Lepper et al., 1973; summary here).

There’s been a lot of research demonstrating the effect. An overview of the research in 1995 (Tang and Hall, 1995) found that the effect extends across all age groups.

The primary theory that explains the effect is called Cognitive Evaluation Theory, and is very well summarized here. This theory suggests, however, that extrinsic motivation may not be bad in all situations, because praise and rewards can also server as a useful indicator to a student of their competence.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Overjustification Effect: Rewards Inhibit Intrinsic Motivation, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Learning to Learn from Your Mistakes

October 12, 2011

When students are able to recognize mistakes and analyze them, they will learn faster and deeper. Jonah Lehrer summarizes a new study that shows that people learn faster when they spend the effort to learn from their mistakes.

When people notice that they’ve made an error, they have an instinctive negative reaction. Then we have the choice to either ignore the error or spend some time considering it – and learning from it. Guess who learn faster?

This research is based on Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, which shows that it’s better to praise effort rather than intelligence. A willingness to work hard (grit) is a much better attitude for learners. It turns failures into learning experiences, while focusing on intelligence actually discourages people from trying things at which they might fail.

… people learn how to get it right by getting it wrong again and again. Education isn’t magic. Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.

— Lehrer (2011): Why Do Some People Learn Faster? in Wired.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Learning to Learn from Your Mistakes, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Notes on Daniel Pink’s Drive

January 30, 2011


Introduces the idea of intrinsic motivation.

  • Describes Harlow and Deci‘s original studies that came up with the idea of intrinsic motivation. Note: Maslow (of Hierarchy of Needs fame) was Harlow’s student.
  • Three basic types of motivation (drives):
    • Motivation 1.0: Biological (need for food, drink, sex)
    • Motivation 2.0: Extrinsic (e.g. getting paid)
    • Motivation 3.0: Intrinsic

Chapter 1: Extrinsic versus Intrinsic Motivation

1. Wikipedia: a success almost entirely because contributors are willing to invest their time and energy for no reward; the very definition of intrinsic motivation.

  • Note: Despite my own challenges with students using Wikipedia as a reliable source, we use our own classroom Wiki extensively. Giving students projects with a clear goal in mind, but great freedom in execution (like the choose your own adventure stories), seems to tap into the same spirit that motivates the Wikipedia contributors.

2. Social operating systems: the basic, often invisible, assumption on which society runs.

  • Note: Good metaphor, but he explains it as if the development of our understanding of motivation paralleled human evolution/development. Pre-social humans were driven primarily by the biological imperative, like large animals still are, he claims. I am very uneasy about this sort of lazy extrapolation given how much we’re learning that differences between humans and animals are no where near where we thought they’d be, particularly given the social organization of many animals. He also ignores cross-cultural differences: different societies value self-actualization and other intrinsic motivation characteristics much differently than the WIERD one he seems to be describing.

3. Introduces behavioral economics (mentions Ariely): Humans are not anywhere near to being ideal, rational economic agents.

4. During the industrial revolution, work was mostly algorithmic (a worker could follow a clearly defined set of steps to get their job done), while now it’s mostly heuristic (workers have to come up with new things).

  • algorithmic work is being replaced by software and outsourced really fast (that’s globalization for you)
  • p. 30 – U.S. job growth – 30% algorithmic, 70% heuristic.
  • Note: Pink claims that heuristic work can’t be outsourced “generally”. He apparently wrote a book about it: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I may have to get that one, because, while I can see automation eliminating most algorithmic work, I don’t know why heuristic work is so difficult to outsource. Certainly there are local, cultural issues that would make things like advertising campaigns difficult for outsiders (and teaching would probably be hard to outsource too because most people don’t want to send their kids overseas for school), but a lot of other stuff is not that difficult for some creative person somewhere else to do; the world is, after all, Flat. Heuristic jobs are still going to be more abundant than algorithmic, but going heuristic no magic bullet: global competition is still going to be a major factor in the future.

Chapter 2

Baseline rewards: the basics people need in a job that earns them a living. Salary, a few perks, some benefits etc.

  • Below baseline rewards there is little motivation.
  • Above baseline rewards extrinsic rewards can be counterproductive.

Work vs. Play: Mark Twain: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

When rewards don’t work:

  • When they are expected (see also post on Praise and Rewards) (called contingent rewards). If you do this, you’ll get this, does not work.
  • Deci et al., 1999: “tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.”

(to be continued)

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Notes on Daniel Pink’s Drive, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Rewards and motivation

January 3, 2011

… tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.
Desi et al., 1999.

Edward Deci (and others) published a paper (pdf) in 1999 that analyzed a whole bunch of earlier studies on how extrinsic rewards affect motivation. Their conclusion is that rewards are generally bad because rewards prevent people from learning how to motivate themselves.

… the primary negative effect of rewards is that they tend to forestall self-regulation. In other words, [expectation of rewards] undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves
Desi et al., 1999.

So while they may work in the short term, rewards do long-term damage.

When institutions—families, schools, businesses, and athletic teams, for example—focus on the short term and opt for controlling people’s behavior, they may be having a substantially negative long-term effect.
Desi et al., 1999.

They also find that rewards can push you into a negative feedback loop, because to properly administer a reward you usually need increased monitoring and you produce more competition. Both of these undermine intrinsic motivation so you’re left with using more extrinsic rewards. (think also of high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind).

So what to do? Desi et al. report that:

intrinsic motivation … requires environmental supports. …the necessary supports are opportunities to satisfy the innate needs for competence and self-determination.

(Note: I found out about this article while reading Daniel Pink’s, Drive).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Rewards and motivation, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Mindset: Set to grow

June 25, 2010

Carol Dweck’s book on the importance of your mindset. Fixed mindset – not good; Growth mindset – effort creates ability –> reward effort, perseverance, and character. When you praise you praise growth qualities like effort, and not fixed qualities like intelligence. It sounds like it ties in with all of the research on praise and rewards. It’s a book I should read.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Mindset: Set to grow , Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Intrinsic motivation in the real world

April 11, 2010

rewards tend to focus the brain more narrowly on the specific task that earns the rewards—thus making it harder to encourage employees to develop creative, innovative solutions. – Laura Vanderkam (2010)

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

How do you motivate people in the creative economy? Apparently not with bonuses. The best way to get people to be creative is to motivate them in ways that “takes the issue of money off the table, so they can focus on the work itself” according to Daniel Pink in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Laura Vanderkam’s (2010) review of the book in the City Journal provides an excellent overview.

… leaders create an environment where people want to do their best. This involves giving people lots of autonomy over their time, their tasks, their techniques, and their teams; providing them an opportunity to work toward mastery of their professional craft; and imbuing their work with a sense of purpose. Laura Vanderkam (2010)

And translated into education Pink advocates the same approach as Montessori,

encourage mastery by allowing children to spend as long as they’d like and to go as deep as they desire on the topics that interest them. – Pink (2010)

It’s good to be reminded of the importance of intrinsic motivation every now and then. There are always forces, most often subtle but sometimes not, that push toward making sure students do well in the standardized tests and cover everything in the curriculum. High schools want to see good grades in all the subjects.

But what if a student just wants to write, and they just pour their heart into it. The other subjects suffer, especially the least interesting ones, but my goodness how their writing improves. What then? …

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Intrinsic motivation in the real world, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Self-respect rather than self-esteem

April 6, 2010

[S]elf-esteem is but a division of self-importance, which is seldom an attractive quality. That person is best who never thinks of his own importance: to think about it, even, is to be lost to morality. Self-respect is another quality entirely. Where self-esteem is entirely egotistical, requiring that the world should pay court to oneself whatever oneself happens to be like or do, and demands nothing of the person who wants it, self-respect is a social virtue, a discipline, that requires an awareness of and sensitivity to the feelings of others. It requires an ability and willingness to put oneself in someone else’s place; it requires dignity and fortitude, and not always taking the line of least resistance. – Dalrymple, 2010.

Self-respect is earned, while self-esteem is not. That at least is the argument of Theodore Dalrymple, who defines this interesting distinction between self-esteem and self-respect based on his observations as a prison psychiatrist. What people want is a “just appreciation of one’s own importance and of one’s own worth.” To assume that one is entitled to respect because of one’s intrinsic strengths is destructive because it says that you don’t have to do anything to get respect. But respect is earned. Both importance and worth are values that are ascribed by others, by society, and to earn them requires effort and achievement. Self-respect is the appraisal of oneself based on one’s contribution to society.

It’s an interesting argument in semantics at the very least, but the fundamental argument at least aligns with the proper way to use praise and rewards. By praising the effort you acknowledge the importance of work in achieving goals, building self-respect, rather that praising intrinsic abilities (“you’re so smart”) that engender a sense that the student is entitled to do well.

One has only to go into a prison … to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people … who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate. – Dalrymple, 2010.

Theodore Dalrymple is a conservative in the dictionary sense of the word. He argues the importance of tradition and personal responsibility. He also strongly believes that healthy culture must satisfy the need of people to belong to something larger than themselves. So much so, that despite being an atheist, he argues that religions, some types of religions at least, have an important role in society.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Self-respect rather than self-esteem, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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