Bribery + Vegetables = Success

Does bribing kids work? The debate rages on, although Levitt has done it effectively on at least one occasion. A new study (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) suggests that bribery can work wonders, at least when it comes to vegetables. Over a two-week period, a team of researchers (Lucy J. Cooke, Lucy C. Chambers, Elizabeth V. Añez, Helen A. Croker, David Boniface, Martin R. Yeomans and Jane Wardle) rewarded kids stickers or verbal praise for eating vegetables they weren’t very fond of. “After the two-week period, all the intervention children showed equal increases in their liking of their target vegetable compared with the control children,” explains the BPS Digest. “However, when given the chance to eat as much of it as they wanted (knowing there was no chance of reward), the kids who had previously earned stickers chose to eat more than the kids who’d just been repeatedly exposed to the vegetable without reward.” Importantly, the results were long-lasting: “At one- and three-month follow-up, the intervention children’s increased liking of their target vegetable was sustained regardless of the specific condition they’d been in. However, in terms of increased consumption (when given the opportunity to eat their target vegetable, knowing no reward would be forthcoming), only the sticker and verbal praise children showed sustained increases.” [%comments]

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    Am I the only one distrustful of the fact that all of the numbers associated with the experiment are published, _exceot_ the number of children whose behaviour was changed?

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  2. Eileen M Wyatt says:

    There are people who *don’t* praise their kids for showing desired behaviors?

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  3. David Leppik says:

    Stickers and praise aren’t bribery because they aren’t monetary. There’s a big difference. For one thing, little kids need to learn the value of money, whereas praise is valued within weeks of birth, and stickers are of interest by the time they stop being a choking hazard. For another thing, praise costs nothing more than the adult’s attention.

    In general, though, monetary and non-monetary rewards are not equivalent. In particular, a monetary reward can be a major turn-off when a financial transaction is not socially acceptable. (Romantic relationships, for example.) Praise is a far more universal currency.

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    • Michelle Barnes says:

      I think that what they should refer to it as is “reinforcement.” Bribery is when the reward is given BEFORE the behavior even occurs, and reinforcement is when the reward is given AFTER the behavior occurs. In particular, this is actually positive reinforcement because they are trying to get the behavior to INCREASE and the reward is POSITIVE. :)

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  4. di says:

    “There are people who *don’t* praise their kids for showing desired behaviors?”

    Yes, there are those who don’t, or at least not much, because they ask why should they praise their kid for doing what they are supposed to do? They’re supposed to do it and that’s it.

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  5. KarenS says:

    @Eileen #2: Yes. For some kids, the best they can hope for is to be ignored rather than scolded or yelled at or worse.

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  6. caia says:

    Stickers are a bribe. Praise is not a bribe. Both are positive reinforcement.

    As bribes go, stickers are very low cost, and praise is free. So why not? Either is also much better (physically and psychologically) than bribing children to eat their vegetables with dessert.

    I’d note that they picked the children’s fourth choice vegetable out of six, not their sixth (last) choice. I think this is significant. I remember as a child there were vegetables whose taste made me nauseated; no amount of praise would have voluntarily made me eat more of them.

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  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    But wait a minute, what about our “Jewish” mothers who denigrate (with love) their kids in becoming overachievers. Example:

    Child: “Hey Mom, I just got an A in algebra!”
    Mom: “Your brother got an A+….Aren’t you as smart as your brother?”

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  8. Eric Swisher says:

    Maybe the key is that bribery helps overcome initial resistance to something that isn’t really unpleasant. Uncertainty (say, about flavor) is unpleasant, so easy for a kid to say “No thanks”. But bribery will motivate us to push our boundaries, perhaps to discover that our concerns were baseless (Hey Broccholli is Good!)
    It would be interesting to try this experiment with adults, on a variety of subjects.

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