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Octalysis: Complete Gamification Framework


Octalysis: Complete Gamification Framework

(This is the Gamification Framework that I am most known for. Within a year, it was organically translated into 9 different languages and became classic teaching literature in the gamification space worldwide. If you are interested in commercially licensing the framework, please visit our Octalysis Group Licensing Page.)

Gamification is design that places the most emphasis on human motivation in the process. In essence, it is Human-Focused Design (as opposed to “function-focused design”).

Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This process is what I call “Human-Focused Design,” as opposed to “Function-Focused Design.” It’s a design process that optimizes for human motivation in a system, as opposed to pure efficiency.

Most systems are “function-focused,” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes its workers will do their jobs because they are required to. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that people in a system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.

The reason we call it gamification is because the gaming industry was the first to master Human-Focused Design.

Games have no other purpose than to please the individual playing them. Yes, there are often “objectives” in games, such as killing a dragon or saving the princess, and sometimes saving a dragon, but those are all excuses to simply keep the player happily entertained.

Since games have spent decades (or even centuries depending on how you qualify a game) learning how to master motivation and engagement, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it Gamification.

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How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

Left Brain vs Right Brain Gamification

How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Since this book is entitled Actionable Gamification, we want to make sure you have a set of steps and tools to help you develop your own projects. The ultimate question that this chapter seeks to answer is: “How do I make my users more motivated intrinsically?”

Well, we’ve noted earlier that Intrinsic Motivation is often derived from Right Brain Core Drives, which relate to Core Drive 3, 5, and 7. Therefore, the actionable way to add Intrinsic Motivation into an experience is to think about how to implement those Core Drives into the experience.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 1: Making the experience more Social

One of the common Right Brain Core Drives that the business world has been using in recent years is Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Many companies are seeking ways to make things more social by incorporating social media, and constantly spamming their users to spam their friends.

Of course, there are better and worse ways to make your experience more social. The first principle to note is that users are intrinsically interested in inviting their friends to an experience only if they are first sold on its value. Often this happens during the First Major Win-State, which is a term referring to the moment when the user first says, “Wow! This is awesome!”

Many companies make the gigantic mistake of asking users to invite all their Facebook friends at the beginning of the Onboarding Stage, which happens right after the user signs up. The users don’t even know whether they will like the experience themselves, let alone risk their friendships by spamming others. In fact, this prompting interface actually delays the First Major Win-State, which could be detrimental to the entire experience.

The experience designer needs to identify exactly where that First Major Win-State is, and count exactly how many minutes it takes for the users to get there – because every second before that you will be seeing dropout. Once the user hits the first major Win-State, that’s the best time to ask them to invite their friends or rate the product. (We will reiterate these important points on First Major Win-States in our chapter discussing the Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey.)

Besides finding the right time to prompt friend-invites, it is important to determine the right type of message. I’ve seen many companies require their users to share a default text such as, “I just used Company A, the leader in B space, to solve all my problems! Sign-up right now for a 30% discount!” This is a message that is obviously not genuine, and will lead to users feeling like they are being baited to share crappy promotional messages.

Rather, it is better to have something less informative, but more believable, such as, “I’ve been reading Yu-kai’s book on gamification. It’s worth checking out! #OctalysisBook.” A default tweet like this (which still allows the user to modify it anyway they wish), produces a social message that their friends will more likely recognize as a true endorsement.

With that all said, none of the above is actually making the experience itself more social. It is much better to foster collaborative play within the Desired Action, where users can help each other out, socialize, and grow together.

When you design for Intrinsic Motivation, you want to create environments that foster socializing, even with areas that are non-critical to the Desired Actions (such as the Water Cooler game technique). Also, consider adding in more Group Quests where users can work together, utilize their unique strengths, and accomplish tasks together. This often makes an experience more intrinsically motivating and enjoyable.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 2: Add more Unpredictability into the Experience

Another way to add Intrinsic Motivation into the experience is to utilize Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity. If every result is expected and the experience predictable, much of the fun and excitement will fade. Adding some unpredictability, though Black Hat in nature, increases the thrill to the experience and prevents the user from losing interest and dropping out.

When you design your experience, ask yourself if there is a way to build controlled randomness into the experience? If the user performs the Desired Action again and again, does the result have to be exactly the same each time? Or can some things be altered from time to time, even if they are just trivial things like alternating feedback dialogue or randomly generated tips.

Unpredictability matched with Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance will often make an undesirable event even more stressful, and sometimes more motivating in a Black Hat way; but unpredictability accompanying Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment or Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession increases the excitement of the experience.

If you implement a variable reward, either in the form of a Mystery Box (users expect a reward but don’t know what it will be) or an Easter Egg (users don’t expect a reward at all), you will likely build positive anticipation and unpredictability. In the book Hooked, Nir Eyal confirms that, “Variable rewards are one of the most powerful tools companies implement to hook users.”

Obtaining a reward is in and of itself extrinsic. However, when you make the reward variable, you add a layer of intrinsic excitement, much like how the animal in the Skinner Box continues to press the lever to get more food, even though it is no longer hungry.

Do be cautious though, since Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is by nature a Right Brain and Black Hat Core Drive, it may unsettle some users who feel uncomfortable because they are not in control of their own destinies. If I told an employee, “Work hard for a year, and you may or may not get a surprising reward!” I may have made the year more intrinsically “interesting” because of the suspense and guess work. However, it may also cause the employee to leave my company because of how uncomfortable it feels when a person is exposed to long-term Black Hat motivators.

Before you snicker for too long, it is worth noting that this is also what most companies implicitly communicate to their employees regarding their raises and promotions: work hard for a few years, and perhaps you will receive some type of promotion! Is it a wonder then that companies complain about their employees lacking loyalty and joining a competitor as soon as they are offered an immediate and higher compensation package? Once you are exposed to Black Hat Motivation and have received your Extrinsic Reward, there is often a very high chance you will leave the game for more “empowering” environments.

Like anything, there’s a right way to design something, and a wrong way to design something. Ideally, if you use variable rewards, you should make sure the action to obtain them is relatively short and easy, such as pulling the lever on a slot machine or refreshing your Facebook home feed.

If I told you, “Can you please bring me my crystal ball that’s lying on the couch? There’s a chance I might give you a surprising reward when you do.” Since the Desired Action is fast, my variable reward offer sounds intriguing, especially compared to just stating what the reward will be. If I asked you to get my crystal ball from the other side of town, the intrigue factor would be diminished and you would be less inclined to take this protracted action for me. Of course, if you consider me of high status and want to gain my liking, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness might still be a motivating factor for you to take the Desired Action.

If you must drag out the Desired Action, it would be advisable to make sure all of the variable rewards are appealing to the users, and that the user knows that up front. If I promised my employees a free vacation either to Italy, France, or Denmark if they worked hard for a year, that likely would be much more appealing than being completely vague with what the reward might be. In this case, there is sufficient information for the employees to get excited about the reward. Perhaps they would even stay in the company for longer in anticipation of finding out which of the vacation options are finally offered.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 3: dd more Meaningful Choices and Feedback

Since I mentioned that adding unpredictability into your experience utilizes Black Hat Core Drives, you may wonder about how to make an experience more intrinsic through White Hat methods. I’ve mentioned a few times that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback sits at the top right of the Octalysis Framework, representing the “golden corner” of being both White Hat and intrinsic in nature. It is the Core Drive where the process becomes “play” and generates evergreen mechanics that keep a user engaged. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult Core Drive to implement well.

In your own experience design, you want to make sure that users are able to make as many Meaningful Choices as possible to reflect their style, preference, and strategy (recall that this is done with the “Plant Picker” Game Technique).

If a hundred users go through your experience and all hundred take the exact same actions to achieve the Win-State, there are no meaningful choices present for the user to express their creativity. If thirty of those hundred take one path, another thirty take a second path, and the last forty take a third path to reach the Win-State, a greater feeling of having meaningful choices will be present.

If all hundred users played the game differently and still ended up reaching the Win-State, your experience will have been successful in generating an optimal meaningful choice design.

If you asked a hundred children to build something great with a box of Legos, it is almost statistically impossible that any two will build the same thing (outside of kids copying each other) in the exact same order. There is a high sense of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback with this type of experience.

You should ask yourself, “Is there a way to allow my users to take multiple routes but still reach the same goal? Are there places that I could allow them to make meaningful choices to craft their own experiences?” These are often difficult questions to answer. But if you can address them with insightful design mechanics, you will see a great deal of value in the form of enthusiastic, loyal, and engaged users that are glued to the experience – from Onboarding all the way into the Endgame Phase. And remember, in order to be successful, this must go beyond providing a shallow perception of choice.

Also keep in mind, our brains hate it when we have no choices, but we also dislike having too many choices. The latter leads to decision paralysis and ultimately makes us feel stupid. This is an Anti Core Drive within Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, which I also call the “Google+ Problem.” In Google+, there is an impressive amount of technology and engineering hours behind each feature, but users feel lost, powerless, and end up leaving quickly.You should avoid this by letting users choose between two to three meaningful options at any given point so they feel empowered without being overwhelmed.

Don’t forget the Boosters for Intrinsic Chains Combo Designs

Finally, designing multiple Boosters as your rewards increases strategy and creative play within an experience. If users can choose different paths to obtain different power-ups that work together towards different goals, they can optimize on what combinations to use and paths to take.

The biggest innovation introduced by the iconic game Megaman (known as Rockman in non-American companies) in 1987 was that it allowed players to pick which stage and boss they want to challenge. This was contrary to the traditional linear design where players challenge through Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3 sequentially.

Besides allowing each player to play the game differently each time they come back (this was before games could “save” their progress), it allowed players to strategize their own optimal path to play the game based on booster abilities along the way. When Megaman defeats a boss, he absorbs the boss’ ability and is allowed to use that ability on other stages and bosses. Some abilities are perfect solutions to other bosses and scenarios, which incentivize the players to carefully pick which bosses they want to fight early on and which bosses to fight later.

In the real world, when you see people figuring out how to take multiple layovers to maximize their Airline Miles points, signing up for various credit cards to optimize spending and rewards, or collecting a variety of coupons to reduce a $20 item to $1, you are seeing strong implementations of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback in making Extrinsic Rewards more intrinsically motivating. The end reward is often nice (Core Drive 2 and 4), but it is often the process of strategizing and optimizing that is truly engaging the individuals.

How Extrinsic Rewards turn off our Social Brain

Going Dutch Rewards

How Extrinsic Rewards turn off our Social Brain

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Giving people financial rewards through Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession doesn’t simply reduce our intellectual curiosity (Core Drive 7) and our creative problem-solving skills (Core Drive 3), it also shifts the focus away from our social brain (Core Drive 5) to our economical brain. Depending on the actual goals of the gamification designer, this could become detrimental to the intended outcome.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely makes it clear that these aren’t just two different ways of thinking; they are completely different behavioral modes that make us act differently in everything we do. Ariely defines these differences as Social Norms versus Market Norms to show the significant contrast between these paradigms.

For example, Ariely demonstrated that people were often very willing to perform mundane tasks, leave candy for others, perform free legal work, teach martial arts, solve difficult puzzles, move large pieces of furniture, and work on open source projects, all without any material reward. This was because their brains were following a social norm mode, “I will do them a favor as we appreciate each other. We take care of each other when we can.”

But once we offer money for the service, the brain immediately shifts into a market mode norm. If we offer as little as 1¢ for the service, people will feel insulted with the amount of money and not only refuse to perform the activity, but question the social relationship itself. The social ties weaken and break, with everything boiling down to: “Are you paying me my worth to do this for you?”

Suppose you were willing to do me a favor for free because you genuinely take pleasure in helping me improve my situation. But then I asked you, “Can you do this for me? I can pay you $5.” You are not likely to think that you are getting the pleasure of helping me out as initially intended, and making an extra $5 bonus on top of it. Our brains are either using the Social Norms, or the Market Norms. Once I offer to pay you, you begin to think, “My time is worth much more than $5. This is insulting.”

Extrinsic Motivation reduces Human Empathy

Ariely adds another hypothetical scenario to drive this point home: what would happen if you offer to pay your mother-in-law a few hundred dollars for hosting a great Thanksgiving meal and a wonderful evening? Immediately, you transition the situation from Social Norms to Market Norms, and it is not difficult to predict that she would respond quite poorly to this generous offer.

After conducting a few experiments, Ariely found that when the price of delicious Lindt chocolate truffles shifts from 10¢ to 5¢ to 1¢, demand from university students increased by 240 percent and then by 400 percent, which fits well into traditional economic models.

However, when the price went from 1¢ to free, instead of a massive increase in demand, as basic economic theory would predict, the number of truffles taken (without cost) by each student was immediately reduced to one. In the end this led to an overall decrease in demand by 50 percent.

When the price was shifted from 1¢ to free, our brains shifted from the Market Norm of “This is a great deal! I must get more!” to the Social Norm of, “I don’t want to be a jerk and take too many. What if it runs out and other people don’t get to have any?”

In the Octalysis Framework, this is a perfect example of Left Brain Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession shifting to Right Brain Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. When you incentivize people with money, they lose some of their social altruism and generosity, which means that they are not selflessly collaborating and sharing useful information with one another as much as they would otherwise. They become more like rational economic calculators and tend to work more only when the pay justifies it. (Assuming of course, that there aren’t much stronger Right Brain Core Drive forces within the environment.)

Fooling our Brains with Gifts instead of Cash

An interesting caveat is that when you offer gifts instead of cash, experiments reveal that the rules of Social Norms still apply. Your mother-in-law would unlikely become offended if you brought a nice wine as a gift for the Thanksgiving Dinner. This is because “Gifting” (or Social Treasures) is still mostly in the realm of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, so the interaction is still intrinsic in nature.

However, the moment you mention the dollar amount of the gift, the Social Norm shifts to a Market Norm once again. In another experiment by Dan Ariely, simply mentioning something along the lines of, “Can you help with something? I’ll give you this 50¢ chocolate bar,” caused applicants to immediately switched to their Market Norm mode and interpreted the statement as an insult.

But when the experimenter simply said, “Can you help with something? I’ll give you this chocolate bar,” many people were eager to help because they were still operating within the Social Norm.

Exploring this further, let’s look at a dating scenario. When you buy gifts for your date, once you make statements such as, “I would be happy to buy you this $80 steak!” or even “I’ve spent quite a bit of money on our dates now. Perhaps we should take this to the next level?” the situation shifts dramatically. The person might become offended, because you have transitioned the Social Norm to a Market Norm. You likely won’t accomplish the goals you intend, since the potential partner will likely prefer to treat your relationship as a “social” one instead of a “market exchange” one. Here again, when applying a Left Brain Core Drive technique, the Right Brain Core Drive becomes diminished.

Of course, our brains are quite easy to fool. A clever device that bypasses this gifting inconvenience is known as the gift card. Though in reality it functions like cash, since the value is stored on a card and can only be used at a certain place, people treat it as a gift. Sometimes they even include the receipt so that the recipients can even return the gift card for cash! However, since it is still a gift, not a real payment, people accept it without shifting to Market Norms – unless you say, “Here is a gift card that is worth $50. I would like you to have it.”

The Chinese and some Asian cultures also disguise their cash gifts with “red envelopes.” Though it is still just pure cash, the envelope represents good luck, and therefore it is received as a Social Treasure. But once the person takes the cash out from the envelope and gives it to another, the exchange becomes a Market Norm, and is therefore insulting again. After all, people don’t like to be treated as beggars.

Better put a red envelope around it or invest in a gift card.

How Rewards kill our Creativity

Reward Creativity

How Extrinsic Motivation kills our Creativity

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Remember when I mentioned that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is the golden Core Drive, where people use their creativity and “play”? Often, if you can establish a strong Core Drive 3 element in your experience, it becomes an evergreen mechanic that continuously engages the mind of users without needing to add more content.

Unfortunately, there are many examples where Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession (in the form of financial rewards) overtake Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.

There are studies that illustrate how our creative problem solving skills diminish when we are offered financial rewards. One of the more famous and effective demonstrations is the “Candle Problem” quoted earlier.

Many of my readers may have seen the Candle Problem in other literature, but if you have not first take a look at the image below:

Candle Problem Rewards

Karl Duncker was the notable psychologist who created the Candle Problem in the 1930s. The goal of the problem was to figure out how to attach a lit candle to a wall using only the tools given, so that the melting wax would not drip on the table.

Later in the 1960s, a psychologist named Sam Glucksberg divided participants into two groups to solve this problem. One group was promised $5 to $20 if they could solve the problem quickly – not bad for a few minutes of work. The other group was simply told that he was simply having them establish the norms for how long it typically took people to solve the problem.

I’ll demonstrate the solution to the problem soon, but the originally findings were quite astonishing. It turns out that the people who were offered money to solve the problem took on average, three and a half minutes longer than those who weren’t offered money.

Getting paid resulted in the Left Brain Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession overtaking the Right Brain Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, in producing inferior results.

Before I present the solution, here’s another image of the same problem, just in another setting.

Candle Problem Rewards 2

Remember that we talked about how Extrinsic Rewards enhance focus and increase performance towards straightforward tasks that require less creativity? If the problem is described using the Illustration above, the solution becomes more obvious. With this version, the people who were offered rewards did solve the problem slightly faster than those who weren’t.

If you haven’t solved the problem yet, don’t worry – since you are in a “book reading” mode and less likely to be intensively focused on problem-solving. The solution is below:

Candle Problem Rewards 3

As you can see, the way to solve the problem is to think “outside the box” and actually use the unassuming box itself.

When a person is trying to solve the problem for free, the activity resembles play. The mind searches for new, creative ways to do things. This makes the right solution easier to find because the mind is flexible and dynamic.

In contrast, when a person is offered a reward, the situation immediately becomes one devoid of play. Unless clear, simple directions are laid out for the person, performance will actually decrease because the mind is fixated on completing the assignment.

Why our Education System is Broken explained by Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation Design

Intrinsic Extrinsic Motivation Education

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Design explains why our Education System is Broken

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

The negative shift from Intrinsic Motivation to Extrinsic Motivation is a big issue within our educational systems.

I hold a firm belief that we as a species are endowed with an innate desire to learn, often driven by Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity – a Right Brain Core Drive, and Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback – the Right Brain desire to use that knowledge in different ways. However, when it comes to school and training, that intrinsic motivation to learn quickly shifts into the extrinsic desire to obtain good grades, appease parents and teachers, gain respect from classmates, and secure prestigious, career-requisite diplomas. All of which are powered by Left Brain Core Drives such as Core Drive 2 and 4.)

Because of this, students often stop caring about the learning itself and do the minimum amount of work to achieve those extrinsic results (which sometimes involves copying each others’ home work or cheating on tests). They may even forget why they are learning the material in the first place.

In early 2014, I had a research interview with a high school senior student on a variety of games. He was an overachieving student who was finishing high school two years earlier than his peers. He knew just about everything there was to know concerning the elite universities he was applying to. Over the course of our conversation, he stated (paraphrasing of course), “Well, Stanford is great at these things, but I’m not sure about this. Harvard is okay on this subject matter, but they have an amazing program that could help my future.”

Then, somewhere in the conversation, I mentioned that math is a very useful subject to prepare for one’s career. To my surprise, this teenager who was polite and enthusiastic the entire time suddenly responded in an almost disdainful way:

“Come on Yu-kai. When do people ever use advanced math after graduating from school?”

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Motivation Traps in Reward-Based Gamification Campaigns

Gamification Extrinsic Reward

Motivation Traps in Reward-Based Gamification Campaigns

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Most gamification campaigns typically employ loyalty programs, badges, progress bars, and prize rewards, which focus on Left Brain Core Drives. This is because it is much easier to add an extrinsic reward to a desired activity than to actually make the activity intrinsically fun or enjoyable.

However, there are many motivational traps which result from using too many Extrinsic Motivation techniques at the expense of Intrinsic Motivation.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I love to draw and drew very often without any compensation. Research has shown that one of the best ways for you to make me stop drawing is to first *pay* me to do it and then stop paying me after a certain time period[^foot13-6].

In fact, from my own experience, I believe that a more effective way is for you to pay me successively less until you reached a very insulting amount – say $0.02 per drawing. At that point, I would feel insulted and no longer have any desire to continue drawing, even though I happily drew for free prior to meeting you. This is because the Intrinsic Motivation of drawing for joy through Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, has now been shifted to an Extrinsic Motivation of drawing for money through Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession.

As the pay decreased, drawing simply became less worthy of my time. Technically this is referred to as an “Overjustification Effect” – I become primarily engaged with the reward which subsequently eradicates and replaces the intrinsic motivation I originally had in the first place.

What’s worse, if you still paid an acceptable amount for my drawings, say $20, more often than not, I would become incentivized to render the quickest, unrefined drawings possible in order to maximize the amount of money I would make. In essence, as long as I still get paid, I would have less focus on the *quality* of the work compared to the *completion* of the work. In fact, many studies have shown that Extrinsic Motivation, such as paying people money to perform a task, actually lowers the creative capability to perform the task.

Dan Ariely, author of *Predictably Irrational*, demonstrated in his experiments that people who were paid the most (5 months pay) for performing some relatively quick tasks performed far worse than people who were paid much less (only one day or two weeks pay for doing the same tasks).

When people are thinking about the money, it distracts their focus from performance. Even the London School of Economics, after many experiments, concluded that, “’We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness. As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

This is because when we are doing something for Extrinsic Motivators, our eyes are set on the goal, and we try to use the quickest and most effortless path possible to reach it. As a consequence, we often give up our abilities to be creative, think expansively, and refine our work.

Daniel Pink states that, “Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But ‘if-then’ motivators are terrible for challenges like the [creative] candle problem.”

Of course, in routine and mundane tasks that don’t require any creativity and hold little Intrinsic Motivation to begin with, Extrinsic Motivation does often increase performance and results because of the goal-driven focus it generates. Dan Ariely points out in his New York Times article, “What’s the Value of a Big Bonus,” “As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance,” but if the task required any “rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance” within his experiments.