FREAK Shots: What Incentivizes You?

Incentives, or nudges, to get people to do things — like donate organs, lose weight, and pick up dog feces — are everywhere; some work better than others. Here are a few that various Flickr users have come across:

Is this encouraging fellowship or chaperoning?

Flickr user theritter thinks 5 cents is a little low for an incentive.

According to Flickr user nicolasnova, it says something like “Use the stairs to harden the butt.”

This one may help kids get better grades, but it will probably undo the effects of using the stairs.

Mike Symons

I always forget my reusable bags when I go the grocery store. I'm not sure what incentive would work to correct that. I guess if the penalty was really large, say $5, I'd be less apt to forget, but I don't think a nickel a bag would be a memorable enough of a penalty to make me remember the reusable bags.

Jennifer Raiser

When can we stop using the noun "incentive" as a verb? It's as bad as "managize".... - jr


i'll admit it... i'm kinda starting to freak out, now!


I remember that Chuck E Cheese's had a thing similar to the McDonalds one, by which you would get a certain number of tokens for As, Bs, or Cs. Problem was, a the age that you're interested in redeeming those, we didn't even GET letter grades yet (we had 'progress reports', but they didn't use a letter scale). So it was utterly worthless, much to my dismay as an elementary school kid who loved Chuck E Cheese's.

It did, however, encourage kids to pester their older siblings to do well (or at least take them to Chuck E Cheese's after they got their report cards... so I guess that's the Law of Unintended Consequences at play!)


The problem with charging for bags is that it gives cashiers/baggers incentive to pack inefficiently and give you more bags; not only is this WORSE for the environment, but it's gouging the customer.

I know some people will respond that the solution is just to bag your own groceries, but this is not an option available to all, for various reasons.


Incent is a wonderful word. Incentivize makes me grind my teeth. Better than icentivisation, though.

science minded

a good question- I know what does not---- attempted bribery, manipulation, when I think of what has moved me in the past to complete a project, I would say a real deadline that I respect and fear a bit i.e., where there are real consequences if I don't follow through. I recall finishing my book that is still in print after 15 years. I was supposed to be paid a certain amount to complete it and, after around 3 months, I was told that they would have to have someone else finish the book if I don't by a certain date. I made it- though they took off a bit for a supposed table that was missing (though I was never informed about it) and the book was edited without my approval. Or when I want something very badly. I wrote a book review on a new translation of Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and, having been asked to write such a review that was very important for me to do, I got it done within the proper time frame.


science minded

ps- I have become a dog walker of late-- I carry two paper bags with me at all times. And the few occasions where I have not and the dogs have pooped- i went back to pick it up. Why? I guess- I just don't like so much pollution- It harms the environment and people struggle so much to keep their homes neat and clean- so there of two motivators here that come around to an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility.

As for incentives to re-use bags- how about charging people for the use of their bags. They do at the shop[-rite store for using their carts- you put a quarter in a meter and can get it back when you return the cart. My guess is, if people were charged 50 every time they went to the market for a bag, they would start bringing their own and re-using the one's they have. Imagine going shopping and having to pay 6.00 for 12 bags of groceries. We take bags i.e., things for granted as we do people until they are gone or their hidden cost is made obvious.


science minded

A good film like "Up." Reminds me of my favorite quotation as a kid--- "nothing ventured, nothing gained."


OMG - that was my elementary school with the McDonalds! Quite a hard place to be a Hindu vegetarian... :)



recall a sign usually posted in early spring for the quad at University of Chicago - complete with redesigned seal (phoenix replaced by squirrel) and retooled motto. Since it's in Latin, the translation was supposed to be
"Let grass grow, that squirrels might frolic" as the injunction to stay off the grass.

Didnt help then, doubt that first signed helps now.(They have since paved over those impromptu shortcuts.)


The trouble with the McDonalds reward is not that it gives the kid a one time grease bomb, but that it establishes it as a reward. Now they associate greasy food with accomplishment and feeling good about themselves. What will they do when they suffer an emotional setback and need that feeling again?


I believe the first one incentivizes more profits for the school's food court.


I saw quite a few grass protection signs like the one here at Cambridge colleges in England. The actual motivation was not the signs, but the wardens (or whatever they called the small, wizened men who enforced the rules). These individuals ran over and shooed the unauthorized grass treadders away. They also collected entrance fees from the general public, and otherwise preserved the ancient privileges of the senior members of the colleges.


I think the grass sign is about rationing, not about incentives. The lawn only stays beautiful if only a few people walk on it. The privileged few are the senior members, and the privilege extends to anyone they are walking with. (It isn't much of a perk to be allowed to cut across the grass if you then have to stop and wait for your friend who was forced to go the long way.)


Trader Joe's gives you a raffle ticket if you bring in your own bag. My opinion is that a prize is better than a dollar amount, even though they may work out to be the same cost for the store. It's important not to quantify the effects of "doing good", because the flip side of that is, "if I take a bag I'm only doing 5 cents worth of damage? That's not much."


The McDonald's incentive isn't surprising. I'm not sure exactly how effective it would be, merely because good grades require a sustained effort over a long period of time, and kids might react better to more immediate incentives/goals. Still, I know a number of kids who happily participate in Book It, a program in a similar spirit. (Unsurprisingly, Book It has come under fire for encouraging unhealthy diets and obesity, but my anecdotal experience says it's effective and both kids and parents like it.)


That grass photo was taken in Cambridge, I think at King's College - it's not an incentive at all, just a "Keep off the grass (unless you are a big cheese in college with special privileges, that is)" notice.


The sign on the grass makes the lawn uglier than if it was actually walked on!


In response to what Matt said above, I'll admit that the Pizza Hut "Book-It" program was the sole reason why I read many of the books I did as a kid. Also, I'm not a huge fan of Pizza Hut anymore, so I suppose it's possible to provide useful incentives while not turning the children into lifetime customers.