CogniFit's Science blog: Choose: Incentives Or Freedom

Choose: Incentives Or Freedom

For all of us living in the so called “free world” (a concept that was very clear a few decades ago but becomes largely blur now), it is very hard to gain conscience that we are not, in fact, entirely free, even if that is our objective or understanding. Let me put it in other words: we are free to make (most) of our choices, but “someone” is giving a hand in making those choices, influencing us to go in a certain direction.

This introduction seems rather negative, but in fact it is not. The influence on the choices is given by the incentives we receive for making them. These incentives are not necessarily good or bad, they just are what they are, and meant to make people decide to go one way instead of the other way. Here’s a very simple and recent example: I’ve tried to write a post title to get interest from more readers. That is the incentive. The success of the incentive, only you will know, each of you individually.

A couple of years ago I read a book focused on pure macroeconomics. You could imagine with this last sentence, a very boring book full of theories and formulas that only graduates of doctorates would ever understand. Yet, this book was so much simpler: there was only one idea in the book, applied to the whole system in macroeconomics. Or, let me rephrase it, the whole theory of Economics is simplified to a word: incentives. We do and we act according to what we think may happen as a result. The choices each of the economy agents make are a product of their means and expectations. The whole system we have around us is a result of the existing incentives.

When a company wants the employees to perform better, giving the resources to achieve that objective is one of the base conditions, but providing the right incentives (which aren’t always simple monetary incentives) is what will make the difference. Incentives bring motivation; they bring will to go further, to learn more or to do things differently. When an incentive is pointed at a certain direction, if it is the right incentive and the base conditions are met, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the actions will go in that intended direction.

This explanation seems very simplistic, and reduces the human being to the early industrial revolution status: you’ll work more if we pay you more; you’ll work less if we pay you less. To cut it short, the incentives have become much more complex than that, and although some social sciences do spend most of their knowledge in understanding how to build better incentives, and best cases can be produced and taught in the universities, frankly there are no unique perfect solutions. And that’s the beauty of it, because the same incentive is perceived differently by each person and each brain, and it is perceived differently depending on how it is created, communicated, when it is activated, to whom it is intended.

Consider his as the first of many articles focusing on the topic of incentives. Later this will be further developed in the areas of brain improvement through brain fitness, and how the right incentives in this area can not only benefit each individual, their results (being it personal, work, school results), but also the whole society.

I am particularly interested in the discussion amongst incentives for improving the kids’ and employees achievements, but not forgetting the very need for the senior population on brain training and finally how an entire society can seize this opportunity to improve the general wellbeing and happiness levels.