I’ve written about a lot of research (for example, Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”), and my own practical experience, that shows that bribes are effective in increasing activity requiring little cognitive effort, but in effective in generating action requiring higher-order thinking skills.

I have many related posts in My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students, and write extensively about it in my upcoming book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers To Classroom Challenges.

Today, The Guardian ran an article headlined Yes, bonuses do work – but for fruit-pickers, not City bankers, which provides more evidence for this perspective. Here’s an excerpt talking about a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:

When it came to the simple chore of hitting computer keys, bonuses worked a treat: the more cash on offer, the faster the undergraduates tapped. On the more complex task of doing maths, however, incentives served to worsen performance. “Tasks that involve only effort are likely to benefit from increased incentives,” wrote the economists. “While for tasks that include a cognitive component, there seems to be a level of incentive beyond which further increases can have detrimental effects on performance.”

In other words, bonuses can spur workers on to do basic mechanical tasks faster and better – clearing a field of fruit before it goes rotten, say, or scanning in multi-packs of Andrex in busy supermarkets. But on more complex tasks, any sum beyond a paltry one is counter-productive.

When will more teachers realize it doesn’t work in the classroom over the long-term (though, as my posts on the previously-mentioned “The Best…” list and my book point out, sometimes temporary incentives for basic behavioral changes are necessary), and when will some “school reform” advocates learn merit pay won’t work for teachers, either?