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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.

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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
By BeatleBangs1964 TOP 500 REVIEWER
I have stated in a previous review how I feel about prizes/awards and the punitive tone I feel often accompany them.
In 1965 the Queen of England presented the Beatles with the MBE Award. John Lennon refused his and some several years later, returned it to the Queen. He felt that he could not, in good conscience accept an award that had previously been given to people who had killed others in combat.
I was so impressed by John Lennon's brave stand against the award. It showed a real strength of character and convictions and it showed not compromising one's standards. I even cheered John's stand on this and his refusal of the award.
In my earlier review, I criticized what I call "lollipop" awards. Lollipops are simply uniform prizes given to all participants. I hate the lollipops because they are patronizing and insulting. The message contained therein is, "Don't count on being able to earn a real prize. Just be content with a lollipop." I could never, at any point in my life accept a "lollipop." The three times I received "lollipops" as a child were three occasions those lollipops were promptly disposed of. I remember even then consciously thinking that "if I don't get a REAL prize fairly, then I won't get one." I just could not accept a lollipop. Receiving such an ersatz prize can really hurt one's pride and undermine confidence. Although lollipops are usually dispensed with good intentions, it often backfires.
John Lennon set a good example. He did not accept something he did not feel he earned.
I like the way the author brings home the point that people are NOT a series of conditioned responses.
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By BeatleBangs1964 TOP 500 REVIEWER
This work is sheer brilliance. Mr. Kohn makes a very good and very unshakable case against dispensing awards. I have long believed that COMPETITION KILLS COOPERATION and that creating rivalry among people often undermines the outcome in the long run.
I have always had a constitutional aversion for "lollipop" awards; that is, awards passed out like lollipops to every participant. In some instances all participants receive a uniform prize. Nobody's performance is being distinguished, so therefore a prize is asinine and meaningless. As well intentioned as this is, no playing field can ever be level and merely dispensing such uniform "lollipops" flies in the face of what awards are really for. I personally detest the "lollipop" awards and I, for one, would not ever be able to accept one in good conscience. For me, it has to be earned fairly and honestly or it doesn't count.
If I had my way, there would be no prizes and awards. All they do is breed rivalry and negative competition. I feel they often undermine cooperation and in many instances preclude cooperation. I like "intrinsic rewards" wherein a person feels good about their accomplishments and receives positive verbal feedback. My favorite uncle was a grand champion at intrinsic rewards -- just knowing he felt you had done a good job or that he was pleased with something you did was a major ego booster. His way was to offer words of gentle encouragement and his motto was simple: if one expects the best, then one can reasonably believe they will GET the best performance. He did not pass out any type of award and he had a strong sense of self and ethics. This highly gifted man has imparted a real gift -- the gift of hard work and taking pride in it.
This book is an excellent statement to the above. I would highly recommend it to anyone. People are more than conditioned responses and rewards often feed into behaviorist thinking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can read, you should read this book. June 26 2007
By Eeks
I give this book a qualified 5 stars. (qualified because I'm only 2/3 of the way through.)

Those who criticize Mr. Kohn because he confuses rewards with reinforcers actually agree with the author more than they realize. A reinforcer maintains or increases the likelihood of a particular behaviour occurring again. He examines the attempted use of rewards as reinforcers. If you read his arguments, what he is really saying is that rewards work as reinforcers only some of the time, when they do work they usually only work short term, and......most importantly, even if rewards act as a reinforcer, what motives underlie our desire to increase that behaviour in the first place?

The point of the book is to critically examine the following:
1) Here is what we want (to have self-reliant yet caring children, to have motivated yet cooperative employees, etc.)
2) Here is what we do to get it (use behavioural reinforcers).
3) Is what we do leading to the result we want?

This involves a shift to big-picture, long-term thinking. Our society is by its very nature focused on the short-term, the quick fix. So this shift is really difficult for people.

In a given situation, a person is not behaving the way you want them to. You have a choice of how to respond.

First, examine your reasons for wanting them to behave differently (is it in their interest, or your own interest? Is it to help them, or to control them?) This requires more self-criticism than many people are willing to subject themselves to.

You can threaten to punish the person. You can promise them a reward if they comply. Neither of these pay any regard to the reason behind the behaviour. The third option is to consider why the person is behaving as they are.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly right
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... Read more
Published on June 6 2004 by D. B. Curtis
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 It's not easy to accept the truth
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... Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by "spooketti"
2.0 out of 5 stars Missed the "gravy" train
Alfie Kohn missed the train on this one. As others have pointed out on this website, he confused reinforcers with rewards. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2004 by Kris
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 So rewards don't always work -- that upsets the apple cart!
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. Read more
Published on June 9 2002 by Amazon Customer
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