The bright side of reward uncertainty

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Motivation theories in economics and management, ranging from agency theory to expectancy theory, argue that uncertain rewards can demotivate workers and lead them to exert less effort on their tasks. In contrast to this view, behavioral neuroscience research has recently shown, in a series of animal experiments, that uncertain rewards can act as a powerful motivator. In a series of studies we investigate and extend classical motivation theories with other theories developed in neuroscience, such as Incentive learning theory, to explain why uncertain rewards can have both a positive and a negative impact on motivation.


Keywords: bonuses, incentives, reward uncertainty, risk, trade-off, work addiction