Negativity bias and task motivation: Testing the effectiveness of positively versus negatively framed incentives

Kelly Goldsmith*, Ravi Dhar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


People are frequently challenged by goals that demand effort and persistence. As a consequence, philosophers, psychologists, economists, and others have studied the factors that enhance task motivation. Using a sample of undergraduate students and a sample of working adults, we demonstrate that the manner in which an incentive is framed has implications for individuals' task motivation. In both samples we find that individuals are less motivated when an incentive is framed as a means to accrue a gain (positive framing) as compared with when the same incentive is framed as a means to avoid a loss (negative framing). Further, we provide evidence for the role of the negativity bias in this effect, and highlight specific populations for whom positive framing may be least motivating. Interestingly, we find that people's intuitions about when they will be more motivated show the opposite pattern, with people predicting that positively framed incentives will be more motivating than negatively framed incentives. We identify a lay belief in the positive correlation between enjoyment and task motivation as one possible factor contributing to the disparity between predicted and actual motivation as a result of the framing of the incentive. We conclude with a discussion of the managerial implications for these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-366
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Incentives
  • Mis-prediction
  • Motivation
  • Negativity bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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