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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The motivating effect of monetary over psychological incentives is stronger in WEIRD cultures

Medvedev, D., Davenport, D.et al.
Nat Hum Behav (2024).


Motivating effortful behaviour is a problem employers, governments and nonprofits face globally. However, most studies on motivation are done in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) cultures. We compared how hard people in six countries worked in response to monetary incentives versus psychological motivators, such as competing with or helping others. The advantage money had over psychological interventions was larger in the United States and the United Kingdom than in China, India, Mexico and South Africa (N = 8,133). In our last study, we randomly assigned cultural frames through language in bilingual Facebook users in India (N = 2,065). Money increased effort over a psychological treatment by 27% in Hindi and 52% in English. These findings contradict the standard economic intuition that people from poorer countries should be more driven by money. Instead, they suggest that the market mentality of exchanging time and effort for material benefits is most prominent in WEIRD cultures.

The article challenges the assumption that money universally motivates people more than other incentives. It finds that:
  • Monetary incentives were more effective than psychological interventions in WEIRD cultures (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), like the US and UK. People in these cultures exerted more effort for money compared to social pressure or helping others.
  • In contrast, non-WEIRD cultures like China, India, Mexico, and South Africa showed a smaller advantage for money. In some cases, even social interventions like promoting cooperation were more effective than financial rewards.
  • Language can also influence the perceived value of money. In a study with bilingual Indians, those interacting in English (associated with WEIRD cultures) showed a stronger preference for money than those using Hindi.
  • These findings suggest that cultural differences play a significant role in how people respond to various motivational tools. Assuming money as the universal motivator, often based on studies conducted in WEIRD cultures, might be inaccurate and less effective in diverse settings.