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PRODUCTIVITY

Why You'll Work Harder--Even If You Know You Don't Have to

A recent study found that when people are told they don't have to do a task, they will actually work at it with greater persistence.

When working on a long-term project riddled with obstacles, you're more likely keep at it if you've been given the option of quitting. 

Yes, really. That's according to assistant marketing professors Rom Y. Schrift, from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Jeffrey R. Parker from Georgia State University. The researchers authored the forthcoming paper, "Staying the Course: The Option of Doing Nothing and Its Impact on Postchoice Persistence." 

Schrift and Parker designed an experiment that involved word search puzzles and a monetary reward linked to good performance. They divided the study participants into groups. The first was tasked with looking for either choice A -- famous actors -- or choice B -- capital cities -- within the word search.  

The individuals in the second group were told that they could do one of three things: look for choice A, look for choice B, or choose option C, which was the option not participate in the word search.  

The researchers found that those who were given the choice to do nothing showed greater persistence and spent more time working on the puzzles than the participants who were forced to do something.  

"To increase persistence, one should directly vet [his or her] chosen path against the no-choice option of doing nothing. Just the fact that it was there meant they completed more tasks, they were more accurate and [they] increased their monetary gains," Schrift told Knowledge@Wharton. 

So why does simply the framing the options this way have such a positive effect? Schrift said it's because we give greater credence to our own decisions when we are given more options. 

Take beverage preference, for example. When given the choice between Coke and Spite, Schrift said he'd pick Coke.  

"If I had a choice between Coke, Sprite or nothing, I would still choose Coke, but I'm learning another thing about myself: I really like Coke because I didn't have to choose anything," Schrift explained. "That's the fundamental mechanism of the effect we're reporting on in this paper."

 

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Last updated: Mar 3, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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