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Survey Incentives and Rewards Programs: Why Make It a Test?

There’s been a great deal of renewed interest in the famous “Marshmallow Test” that was conducted at Stanford University in the 60s and 70s. There’s a TED discussion by Joachim de Posada. There’s an article in The New York Times and an interview with the marshmallow man himself, Walter Mischel, in The Atlantic.  Much of this attention is because of his new book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control

The original experiments, everyone concluded, were about delayed gratification and willpower. In the studies, which are referred to as The Marshmallow Tests, Mischel and his graduate students offered children a choice between one small reward immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes. While some out of the 600 participants ate the marshmallow immediately, about a third of those who tried to wait were successful and got the second marshmallow.

The latest discussion, however, is about the significance of the findings when researchers followed up with the original participants years later. Results showed that the children that waited for their reward (delayed gratifiers) had higher SAT scores, more advanced degrees and a lower BMI than the children that couldn’t wait (instant gratifiers).

So what does that say for the rewards and incentives industry? Does it mean that people should have to wait for their reward? Would that make them better human beings and more successful?

Probably not. After all, giving someone a reward or incentive shouldn’t be a test.

It’s about recognizing achievement, or thanking someone for his or her business. In the workplace, rewards for performance and productivity are positive reinforcement, and they increase employee morale. In market research, incentives increase response rates and reduce non-response and “bad answers,” such as “don’t know” or “no answer.” And consumers love rewards! Incentives, such as our Visa virtual accounts, are a great way to promote a brand, drive purchases or consumer engagement and inspire loyalty. So why would you want to make recipients wait to receive their reward?

Humans are hardwired to want things right away. That’s why social media is so popular. Technology enables us to live in the moment and receive instant feedback. Technology also enables the incentives industry to deliver instant rewards, often in less than 90 seconds. That’s what we mean when we talk about instant gratification.

Procrastination has never been seen as a particularly exemplary quality, so why should you put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

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