Is Punishment or Reward more Effective?


What is most effective in getting people to learn: punishment, or reward? Well, take the case of fighter pilot training. Instructors found that negative feedback was much better than positive feedback. If the pilot did poorly on one attempt and was yelled at, they did better on the second try. I retrospect, if they gave good feedback on occasions, the pilots performance declined on his next try. The thing is, is that this contradicts a large body of research that says the positive feedback is better. In a study, rugby players were given a video feedback session after the game. Except half of them were shown their highlights and were praised, and the other half were shown their fails and mistakes. Now, at the next game, the half that were given the good feedback where doing better than the half that was given negative feedback. It wasn’t just mental, either. They tested the players and where shown that the players with good feedback had higher testosterone levels than the others. But, why didn’t this works for the pilots? It is possible that it is task dependent. Maybe piloting requires negative feedback for success and vise versa for rugby. Or maybe… The feedback had nothing to do with the performance at all. Maybe, regardless of the feedback, they would have done the same. This could be the Regression to the Mean. The Regression to the Mean can be explained as: If you have a good round of golf today, your round will not be as good as tomorrow. This is because random chance plays a roll in everything we do. And this sounds a little like the Gamblers Fallacy, which states that past events control future probabilities. But the Regression to the Mean is not that things even out in the long run, it is just the nature of our universe. So really, it doesn’t matter if you give positive or negative feedback, the Regression of The Mean will do all of the dirty work for you

*Thanks to Derek at Veristasium


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