Saturday, November 23, 2013

Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART NINETEEN

 by Dino Dogan

Motivation Part II

Think before you click.

Three researchers walk into a preschool. Stop me if you’ve heard this one...

Lepper, Greene and Nisbett; three renowned behavioral scientists conducted an experiment on preschoolers to see which kid would give up on what they love to do. The answer was surprising.

They identified children who choose to spend their free, unstructured play-time drawing. Then they divided those children into three groups

  1. The Expected-Reward group - Kids knew they would receive a reward (a blue ribbon with their name on it)
  2. The Unexpected-Reward group – Kids had no idea they would receive a reward but did.
  3. The No-Reward group – Kids weren’t told about any rewards nor did they receive any

The kids painted, the scientists watched and rewards were given out (or not). 

And that was that. Or was it?

After two weeks, the scientists came back to secretly observe kids while teachers set out the paper and markers during free, unstructured play-time.

The kids who received an unexpected reward and the kids who didn’t receive any reward (groups 2 and 3) were still drawing with gusto. However, The kids who were told they would be rewarded (compensated) for their drawing efforts (kids in group 1) were now disinterested in painting since there was no incentive present.


Compensating someone for what they love to do is a sure-fire way of making them hate it (or at the very least they will stop doing it once the incentive is removed).

Two caveats.

  1. We are all very motivated to perform in return for compensation, however, once a certain threshold is reached, additional compensation will not make a difference.
  2. Only certain types of tasks land themselves nicely to incentivizing. We need to know the difference.

All mammalian behaviors can be divided into two broad categories. Algorithmic or heuristic.

Algorithmic activities are the kind that can be executed in specific, pre-defined sequence of steps. Filling out your taxes is a good example of an algorithmic activity. So is commanding your dog to sit, stay, roll over…whatever.

Heuristic activities are the kind that can’t be systematized. We can’t systematize a creation of a sculpture or a painting (and when we do, the art suffers). By the same token, it would be a mistake to try and systematize and/or incentivize a dog that is engaged in type of activities which require problem solving, flexibility, unpredictable environmental variables, and sustained self-motivation. Can you think of such environments?

Side note: For the economy buffs out there, which one of these two types of activities do you think is being outsourced to other countries with cheap(er) labor?

Bomb and drug sniffing dogs are a great example of canines engaging in heuristic type activities. 

Tracking, attack and protection dogs, etc. Also show dogs. While dog shows are somewhat systematized the dog still needs to be self-motivated and there is plenty of unknowables.

So how do you ensure you get sustained self-motivation from your dog? (or child, spouse, boss, subordinate…etc).

There is only one way. Make the process its own reward. How?

It starts by understanding what drives us (or the dog).

Barking (for example) is its own reward. It releases often pent-up energy and its fun (for the dog). Digging, chewing, biting, chasing, etc. Dogs engage in all of these activities without a visible incentive, and yet, dogs love it. Why?

Because dogs are just like those kids our behavioral scientists studied at the beginning of this post. Your job is to NOT stifle their desire. If you do, no amount of incentive will help.

From the dog’s perspective, click to treat a simple, single-motion, type command like sit, roll-over or similar. This is an algorithmic action. Simple, straight forward, 1,2,3 type of deal. Command, action, reward.

For more complex, heuristic behaviors, the process itself must be its own reward. Otherwise the dog (or human) will lose its drive and motivation.

I feel I’ve left many holes unplugged with this post but I will let you guys poke those and we’ll work on it together. I will leave you with this.

Here is something that came to me the other day that goes against the grain of every business and productivity expert and was inspired by the information in this post. 

See if you agree.

In my view, “goal setting” is fundamentally flawed. It emphasizes result over process. If you enjoy the process goals become automatic. Thoughts?


Dino Dogan is a blogger, writer, biker, dog trainer, singer/songwriter, Martial Artist. Dino is now busy with his DIY Blogger Net blog. He is also behind the great social media tool, Triberr. Hopefully one day he'll return to dog blogging. Meanwhile, you can connect with Dino on Twitter or Facebook.

Related articles:
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART ONE
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART TWO
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART THREE
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART FOUR 
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART FIVE 
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART SIX 
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART SEVEN
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART EIGHT
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART NINE
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART TEN 
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART ELEVEN
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART TWELVE 
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART THIRTEEN 
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART FOURTEEN  
Human Dog Problem Tree - PART FIFTEEN 

Human Dog Problem Tree - PART SIXTEEN 
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART SEVENTEEN  
Human-Dog Problem Tree - PART EIGHTEEN

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