What works better punishment or rewards?

Andrew Leung
2 min readNov 29, 2023
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When we look at motivation for any subject area in life there are 2 main sources of motivation: reward and punishment. These two motives are the drivers for just about every action we take. This affects everything from our personal finances to our day to day lives.

First lets understand rewards and punishments as a source of motivation. Motivation is associated with positive re-enforcement of behaviors or as a reward to do something you don’t really want to do. For many people a positive re-enforcement and reward for working out and dieting may have a reward of cheat meals or new work out clothes. The goal of rewards is to eventually create a more positive view on whatever activity is being involved. On the other hand punishments use fear and consequences to create change. Much like the rewards focused on positive consequences, you do this and you get to do this fun thing. Punishment takes the opposite approach of if you do or don’t do this, something bad will happen. You’ll often see this when it comes to health related actions. If you don’t exercise, your risk of disease X will go up. Punishment uses fear of an outcome as a motivator, it doesn’t attempt to create a positive relationship.

So the big question is which works better?

The reality is that neither one is perfect for every scenario. Each one offers different strengths and weaknesses. The person who is going through the process of change and life is typically going to respond differently. Some of this is just based off of your personality. Others are learned behavior that over time solidify into core beliefs. Regardless the idea of one being better than the other there are elements of success that are in both that are the same. Those elements are consistency, predictability, and fairness. Consistency is important because you have to show that the outcome is going to happen. Predictability is important for much of the same reason, you (the person changing) needs to be able to see that things are following a pattern. This also helps establish trust. Lastly, fairness is incredibly important in making whichever type of relationship work. When using rewards it can create a sense of entitlement if it is to easy to earn or cause resentment on the rewards side that they are giving up too much. On the punishment side, resentment and negativity are already built into the system. If you fail to make it fair these things could skyrocket and ruin any chances of improving or making changes to behavior.

Rewards and punishment are two sides of the same coin, but getting them to work require many of the same principles.

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Andrew Leung

I will be sharing the plain and honest: truths, pros and cons as well as my experiences of Personal Finance, Side Hustles, and Investing.