Money Doesn’t Motivate

Posted on Jun 08, 2010 by Gugel in Psychology

I guarantee you’re not gonna be a great poker player if money is the only thing that keeps you going.

I’ll prove it to you.  A study by M.I.T.  researchers had students try to beat a series of challenges.   They did stuff like memorize strings of numbers, solve word problems and shoot basketballs into a hoop.

  • If the students had average performance, they’d get a small reward.
  • If they were significantly above average, they got a medium reward.
  • And if they were way above average, they got a big cash prize.

You’d expect that the bigger the reward, the better the students would perform, right?  In other words, if the big cash prize was $5,000, you’d think the students would perform way better than if the prize was only $100.

The study had a surprising result.  If the students were required to do even a little bit of thinking, the large cash prize led to WORSE performance.

Now that’s a really surprising result.  So they replicated the study across the world.  They tried it in India were the huge cash prize was 2 months salary.  Again, the higher cash rewards led to WORSE performance.  The only time cash incentives actually work is for purely physical labor.

There is a catch though.  You do need SOME money to be motivated.  You need just enough so you don’t worry about paying your rent and you can just concentrate about thinking about poker.

So if money doesn’t motivate people, what does?  There are 3 main factors that are important to motivation.

  1. Autonomy – do what you want to do, when you want to do.
  2. Challenge & Mastery – humans just like to get better at stuff.
  3. Purpose – what’s the big picture, what do you want to accomplish in life?

To be a motivated professional poker player, you need to be self-directed, have a unyielding desire to master the game, and have a clear sense of purpose  (not just “I want to make a lot of money”).

Check out the video below for more info:

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4 Responses to “Money Doesn’t Motivate”

  1. Squizzel

    16. Jun, 2010

    Yeah money definitely doesnt motivate. I remember doing something about this in my business class at school and it was all about the hirachy of needs.

    Everyone needs a bit of money but after that most people want there other needs fullfilled before they crave more money.

    Personally, ive come up against it a few times when deciding whether i should work on my web businesses or play poker. I understand in the long run my web businesses are likely to offer a higher reward than playing but playing poker is just so much fun, a $ won is much more satisfying than a $ earned. Fact :-)

  2. Fubusama

    20. Jun, 2010

    I think these are some deep thoughts. The interesting piece is – having money helps you achieve your needs but most people disassociate money with them. For example, “I just want a a healthy family” – a need/desire that becomes increasingly more achievable the more money you accumulate. Food for thought.

    Great article – bookmarked it etc.


  3. james covert

    02. Jul, 2010

    Money is not everything, but despite that statement, it is most things. Its because in todays modern world, money comes with great pressure, and yet with out money there is pressure still.

    Whilst money is not everything, it can relieve the tension of a life and those situations without it. It is leverage, it is support and it is a factor that can improve your life in credible ways.

    You must never forget human value and you must always be aware of your own worth in comparisom to money itself.

    Both are important, yet one will always be there regardless.

  4. Danny

    23. Jul, 2010

    Interesting study, but not surprising. I imagine the added pressure of the extra money cause problems/nerves over incentive. I met and spoke with Gus Hansen and he could easily pick the players concerned about the prize money at his table and finds it easy to exploit them. He said it took a lot of time but he has tried to train himself to play a hand the same way whether it was for 50c or $200,000. I’d love to be there.