Prof. Armin Falk, a professor at Bonn University, unveiled some very intriguing studies on motivation last week. I’ll provide a short summary of how I believe some of his key findings can be applied to education. You can also read a more extensive report here, review one of the studies here, and/or watch a video of his talk that I’ve embedded in this post (I’d suggest you skip to the fourteen minute mark).

I’ve previously shared Daniel Pink’s findings on the importance of “baseline rewards”:

Pink also points out that everyone needs “baseline rewards.” These are the basics of adequate “compensation.” At school, baseline rewards might include students expecting fair grading, a caring teacher who works to provide engaging lessons, a clean classroom. If the baseline needs are not met, then the person’s “focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance….You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all.”

Falk studied the idea of fairness, which I think can be described as the same or very similar to the concept of “baseline rewards.” In his studies (his first one focuses on people feeling like they are treated equally like their colleagues, which is interesting and unsurprising, but not important for this discussion — I’m referring to his other research) he takes Pink’s findings a step further.

Falk says that if people don’t feel treated fairly, they get motivated to do worse.

He shares intriguing results of the impact of a strike at Firestone Tires to help back up that assertion.

In addition, not being treated fairly causes stress and negative health effects.

He also found, and this is a partial quote:

All incentive systems involve control….How do we perceive control? Controlling someone signifies distrust. The less trusted we feel, the less hard we work.

It seems to me that there are lessons in his findings for how we treat our students and how the Obama Administration and other “school reformers” are treating us educators.

What do you think?