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Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes [Paperback]

Alfie Kohn
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 30 1999
The basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way we train the family pet. Drawing on a wealth of psychological research, Alfie Kohn points the way to a more successful strategy based on working with people instead of doing things to them. "Do rewards motivate people?" asks Kohn. "Yes. They motivate people to get rewards." Seasoned with humor and familiar examples, Punished By Rewards presents an argument unsettling to hear but impossible to dismiss.

Frequently Bought Together

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes + Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason
Price For Both: CDN$ 29.56

Product Details

Product Description


"a clear, convincing demonstration of the shortcomings of pop-behaviorism, written with style, humor, and authority," Kirkus Reviews

"Every parent, teacher, and manager should read this book -- and hurry." -- Thomas Gordon, founder of Parent Effectiveness Training

About the Author

Alfie Kohn's six previous books include Punished by Rewards and No Contest: The Case Against Competition, as well as Beyond Displine and What to Look for in a Classroom. Descrilbed by Time magazine last year as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of educational fixation on grades and test scores," he is a popular lecturer, speaker to teachers, parents, and reasearchers accross the country. The author currently resides in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly right June 6 2004
Behaviorism, pop or otherwise, is caustic. This book lays out exactly how caustic it can be. I've tried behaviorism -- I was well schooled as a practitioner of the evil art -- and found it wanting. In the workplace it is dehumanizing. As a parenting tool it is destructive of both the child and the relationship with the child.
This book is one of the 4 or 5 most life-changing books that I have ever read. When friends ask me for parenting advice or management advice, this book tops my list of recommendations. If this book lacks in any area, it is in providing an alternative toolkit. It has a few things to say on the topic, but you will need to roll your own toolkit to a large extent. Having made the journey to the other side, I can tell you it is well worth the effort. I find it telling that friends did not start asking me for parenting or management advice until *after* I had reengineered my life according to this book.
Read this book and get started on your own journey toward a life of mutual respect towards your fellow travelers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As a teacher, I have always argued that we need to maintain high
grade standards in order to motivate our students to do their
best work. The assumption behind my position is that students
want to get A's and will work to avoid F's (at least most will).
This doesn't seem too radical. As parents, we make similar
assumptions. We reward our children when they behave in ways we
approve, and we punish them when they misbehave. We might argue
about whether spanking is a good punishment or whether sending a
high school student to his or her room is effective, but we agree
about the efficacy of rewards and punishment.
Employers and supervisors would agree. We reward our employees
with pay raises when they do a good job; some jobs even provide
merit pay for their for the best workers.
But after reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, I have some
reservations. According to Kohn, rewards are not only
ineffective; they even prevent the behavior we want to encourage!
The book starts off with a review of the psychological school of
determinism and the work of B.F. Skinner. It's a bit technical
here, but it is clearly enough written that most readers can wade
through it with no problems. Then comes the heart of the argument
- offering rewards is actually counter-productive.
In one study, for example, pre-kindergarten children were given
the chance to draw with Magic Markers, something almost all
children love to do. When one group was told they would receive
gold stars if they drew pictures, however, their interest seemed
to drop, and when the gold star rewards were withdrawn, many of
the children quit drawing!
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's not easy to accept the truth March 4 2004
This book was a watershed for me as a professional manager of people. As most of America, I too was convinced that rewards such as monetary bonuses and the like were the only way to achieve performance. As Alfie points out, these methods do indeed produce results, but only in the short term. How else to explain the turnover rate for sales people in most companies? Funny but it is the company which creates its own turnover issue, increase in new-hire training costs, false reporting of numbers, and artificial barriers to even greater success in sales numbers. It's even more bizarre to see companies offer similar (although drastically less) rewards to "service" personnel and then wonder why customers aren't loyal. How many of you actually arrive at a retail destination and want a salesperson?
We are all not motivated by the same things, nor do we all share the same goals either professionally or personally so why would we put in place a system that assumes such a declaration? Learn about the bell shaped performance curve to understand that the group of people who produce the largest output are often the most unrecognized and angry. Companies that emphasize reward and recognition to their best performers will overlook the hardest and most loyal employees and then want to punish people for cheating on numbers simply to keep their jobs. Is it any surprise that these same companies end up fighting off lawsuits and labor unions? For instance, how does any company know how many phone calls or sales referrals per day it takes to keep a customer loyal?
Of course the point is that the workers of today were the children of yesterday; pinholed into limited performance expectations by parents, teachers, and academic systems.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Missed the "gravy" train Jan. 22 2004
By Kris
Alfie Kohn missed the train on this one. As others have pointed out on this website, he confused reinforcers with rewards.
What's surprising is that he did this even after (apparently) reading through Skinner's books and even interviewing him. Nevertheless, nobody will accuse Mr. (Dr.?) Kohn of being hard-hearted: He, at least, finds reinforcement in sticking up for the other viewpoint, making us humans feel important again. Skinner probably knew in his heart and head that comparing humans to radishes (we are only here to carry and pass on genes) would not appeal to most people (punishing). Yet, this is what biology has given us: this is our main purpose, the sound and fury notwithstanding.
Alfie (What's it all about?) at least tries to prop up our little egos again, and some of us need that. I found Skinner's viewpoint (in his interview with Alfie) to be close to the Buddhist viewpoint (no egos, no fear of death, et cetera). It also reflects such viewpoints as expressed by biologists in their analyses of human moral systems. Anyway, this book is still worth reading, if only for Skinner's interview in the appendix. Diximus.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can read, you should read this book.
I give this book a qualified 5 stars. (qualified because I'm only 2/3 of the way through.)

Those who criticize Mr. Read more
Published on June 26 2007 by Eeks
1.0 out of 5 stars Did he write the book for free? Think about it...
Other reviewers have already made note of this but it is worth repeating: Kohn is seriously misinformed about the empirical studies that have been conducted within education and... Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Uninformed about behaviorism, but some useful points
I'm not sure how many times I've had to deal with this sort of confused analysis. Mr. Kohn is on track on many points, but is about as uninformed of modern behaviorism as he could... Read more
Published on April 27 2004 by Matthew
5.0 out of 5 stars Life Changing
Alfie Kohn's views on punishment and reward have changed the way I teach and will change the way I parent. This book is an incredible insight to the damaging effects of rewards. Read more
Published on March 7 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Parents, teachers and managers must understand Kohn's book
Kohn offers research instead of folk wisdom to conclude something seemingly counterintuitive to most folks: rewards actually undermine performance. Why? Read more
Published on June 15 2003 by R. Davison
3.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstandings galore
Most of the reviewers seem to confuse rewards with reinforcers. An extrinsic reward is not guaranteed to be a reinforcer. Read more
Published on April 23 2003 by Janise G. Pries
4.0 out of 5 stars Good theory doesn't always make good practice
Alfie Kohn, In his book Punished by Rewards, makes some very useful observations in opposition to using rewards to reinforce behavior. Read more
Published on July 1 2002 by Kris Erskine
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for all educators, employers, and parents
Any teacher, parent or boss who wants to know the best way to be a leader, to motivate, to encourage positive behavior, or to better enjoy their leadership role needs to read this... Read more
Published on April 11 2002 by Kate Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars Where did the motovation go?
If you want to know why your child or children, once in school, go from a jest to learn to avoiding school; this book will tell you why! Read more
Published on March 22 2002 by ASchoolGal
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