June 11th, 2009

Can Money Buy Good Decisions?

Last year  we reported for The NewsHour about a school district in Ohio where students earn cash rewards for high test scores. Incentive pay for students, teachers, and parents is being experimented with all across our educational system and policymakers and educators are asking what motivates excellence, and what merits reward. lemmings

Recently “All Things Considered” highlighted a  program in Greensboro, North Carolina that pays teenage girls who have already had one child a dollar for every day they are not pregnant. It seems to be working to drive down threat of teen pregnancy, and it’s caught the attention of Cass Sunstein and other officials in President Obama’s cabinet. But what are the psychological implications of such a program?  In the face of human beings’ capacity for error and bad decision-making, should government’s primary goal be to protect people from themselves?  Creating incentives for good grades and safe sex seems on the surface to be working, but does it show a basic lack of faith in “the human animal” to act in its best interest?

Using Psychology to Save You From Yourself [NPR, 6/8/09]
Related Progam: Pay for Grades in Ohio [LMTV, 8/11/08]

BONUS: 6th grader Josh Ackley on what it’s like to get cash from school

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