Thursday, September 06, 2012

the planners dream goes wrong

In an experiment two participants were given boxes of lego bricks and instructions on how to build a simple robot from the bricks.

The participants earned two dollars for the first robot they built, then a subsequent fee for each additional robot on a decreasing scale of 11 cents per robot.
So robot 2 earned them 1 dollar 89, third robot 1 dollar 78 etc etc.
The participants could continue building robots for as long as they felt motivated. Both participants were told that their robots would be dismantled and the bricks re-used for the next participant.

Condition 1.
The first robot builder managed 10 builds before packing in and received $15.05 in payment.

The researcher took each of his ten constructed robots, placed them carefully in a box, in clear view, beside his table upon completion.

Condition 2
The second participant only built four robots and received payment of $7.34. Each of his four constructed robots was dismantled immediately upon completion by the researcher.

Throughout the day condition 1 robot builders averaged 10.6 robots.
Condition 2 robot builders average 7.2 robots.
The economic reward for the activity was the same for both conditions, yet the participants in the 'meaningful' condition – the ones who could witness the progress of their work – were motivated to keep building robots.

The condition 2 participants – for whom the task had no meaning – were much less motivated to continue.

This is a short version of a longer story that features in Dan Ariely's 'The Upside of Irrationality'.

I wonder if any of the planner fraternity can relate?


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