The Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist: Incentives

By Aline Holzwarth

Illustrations by Matt Trower


We have joined together with other behavioral scientists to compile a playlist of over 5 hours of songs from a diverse range of genres that each, in some way or another, exemplify the principles of behavioral science. These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders), and will be released with their descriptions in the coming weeks, one category at a time.


There’s a reason gamification is so popular: Humans are incredibly sensitive to reward and punishment, to the feeling of progress, and the sense of completion. Incentives in classical economics are traditionally thought of as mere financial rewards, but the field of behavioral science has come a long way from tradition to include incentives in the form of regret lotteries, points as prizes, experiences as rewards, commitment devices (if-then contracts that impose penalties for failure), and even reward substitution where inherently rewarding activities are paired with healthy (but non-motivating) behaviors. Amazingly, non-financial incentives can be the most effective at driving behavior change! (Here’s some evidence that cash is not king.)

People are rarely motivated by abstract long-term goals like the desire to get fit, but are easily motivated by more enticing immediate rewards. Similar to temptation bundling, reward substitution is when we do something good (like exercise) for the wrong reason (to be able to watch TV on the treadmill).

Two songs from the ultimate behavioral science playlist demonstrate the concept of incentives (and the tension between intrinsic and extrinsic incentives) perfectly: Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and “Everything is Free” by Gillian Welch. Zarak Khan notes that “Dolly highlights the limits of extrinsic motivators — namely, a paycheck. Without attention to intrinsic motivators, work can feel like a drag.” And the flipside, how “intrinsic motivation can be very powerful, as Gillian Welch illustrates in “Everything is Free.” She points out that in some cases it can even lead to exploitation, like the performer who is willing to play without getting paid. They get enough satisfaction from the work, demonstrating their mastery, and enjoying the autonomy that this lifestyle affords them (“Never minded working hard, it’s who I’m working for”).”

These displays of incentives in music (and more) appear in the ultimate behavioral science playlist, a compilation of songs that demonstrate common behavioral principles.  These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders)

In collaboration with behavioral scientists from eight cooperating organizations (Action Design, Behavioral Grooves, Habit Weekly, behavioraleconomics.com, ideas42, Behavioral Scientist, PeopleScience and Betterment), we are pleased to share the ultimate behavioral science playlist with you. We hope you enjoy it, and share it with one other person!

Listen to the Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist:

 

Songs About the Behavioral Principle: Incentives

 

Extrinsic Motivation Intrinsic Motivation

9 to 5

Dolly Parton
Zarak Khan
Contributor, Action Design

"Workin' 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it

9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that I would deserve a fat promotion
Want to move ahead but the boss won't seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!"

Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” pairs well with “Everything is Free” by Gillian Welch. In this classic, Dolly highlights the limits of extrinsic motivators — namely, a paycheck. Without attention to intrinsic motivators, work can feel like a drag.

Operant Conditioning Reinforcement

Bitch

Rolling Stones
Aline Holzwarth
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Yeah when you call my name
I salivate like a Pavlov dog

Yeah when you lay me out
My heart is beating louder than a big bass drum, alright"

The Rolling Stones do more than allude to operant conditioning in their song “Bitch,” where they illustrate a conditioned response (salivating like a Pavlov dog) in response to its associated stimulus (when you call my name). One can only imagine what the reward for the reinforced behavior is here.

Extrinsic Motivation Intrinsic Motivation Autonomy Mastery Love

Everything is Free

Gillian Welch
Zarak Khan
Contributor, Action Design

"I can get a straight job
I've done it before
Never minded working hard
It's who I'm working for

And everything is free now
That's what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away

Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we're gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn't pay"

Intrinsic motivation can be very powerful, as Gillian Welch illustrates in “Everything is Free.” She points out that in some cases it can even lead to exploitation, like the performer who is willing to play without getting paid. They get enough satisfaction from the work, demonstrating their mastery, and enjoying the autonomy that this lifestyle affords them (“Never minded working hard, it’s who I’m working for”). Pairs well with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”