With 2019 right around the corner, I've been reading about forming successful habits. Many non-academic sources (and Charles Duhigg's popular book The Power of Habit) have advocated for pairing a cue with operant conditioning's positive reinforcement routine-reward method. For example, your alarm clock goes off (cue), you go for a jog (routine), you drink a fruit smoothie right after (reward).

This seems to be a short-term and damaging solution because of the overjustification effect, where external rewards irreversibly decrease intrinsic motivation.

Is there any evidence suggesting that extrinsic rewards can successfully sustain habits in the long-term? To be more specific, could extrinsic rewards be used for several years and still remain equally effective in supporting the desired habit, or would the extrinsic rewards eventually become less effective at reinforcing the desired habit, given how extrinsic rewards eventually decrease the potency of intrinsic motivation?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to psych.SE. Great question, but it's not clear to me if by "successfully sustain habits" you mean via continuing extrinsic rewards or replacing with intrinsic rewards. If the former, then the answer is certainly yes: Casinos, video games, sex addiction... $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Dec 31 '18 at 4:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg thank you for the feedback. I'll try to be more specific in the future. In this case I meant the former, since I wasn't sure if extrinsic rewards could last many years, but given your examples it seems like the answer is yes, so thank you for that. I've updated the question accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – abagh0703
    Dec 31 '18 at 5:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.