Remuneration psychology

Sometimes our abilities leave us at the most important moments. However, the latest findings from psychology can also open up new possibilities for us in the design of remuneration systems. Studies have shown that in the case of cyclical (mostly annual) performance agreements, the promised success bonuses have not contributed to the desired increase in performance to the desired extent. 

This is apparently the result of a phenomenon that researchers also call “choking”. This phenomenon can obviously be remedied by an amazingly simple trick. The researchers allowed their test subjects to perform a task in the brain scanner that required some motor skills and coordination. If the participants were successful, they were gradually rewarded with more and more money. However, the higher the amount, the higher the probability that the test persons suddenly fell victim to choking and nothing worked – a principle that is already well known from similar studies.

In order to reduce the danger of choking, the researchers gave their participants a new strategy in a second run: Instead of constantly thinking that they had to master the task in order to receive a high reward, the test persons received the promised bonus in advance in order to work for it in order to be able to keep it. The reversal of the process ensured that the test persons actually failed less often afterwards.

In the brain, this was also reflected in the activity of the ventral striatum, a region that researchers had already associated with choking in previous studies. In addition, skin conductance measurements revealed that the volunteers felt less stress in the second run and therefore failed less frequently – an indication that the new approach apparently helped to relieve the pressure from the situation. Dunne and his colleagues conclude that it might be worthwhile to look at opportunities and risks from a different perspective. 

There was also an increase in creativity. This is where forward-looking models open up, which also coincide with my findings from my activities at the Academy for the Development of Potential.