Friday, July 30, 2010

Clay Shirky on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic : Amateurs vs. Professionals and The Soma Experiment

"Amateurs are sometimes separated from professionals by skill, but always by motivation; the term itself derives from the Latin amare--"to love." The essence of amateurism is intrinsic motivation: to be an amateur is to do something for the love of it." 
Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

In his 2010 book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky devotes a chapter to the topic of motivation, and weaves examples from past and recent history throughout the entire book that illustrate the difference between intrinsic motivation (IM) and extrinsic motivation (EM).

Shirky suggests that IM and EM are distinguishable from one another by more than just their motivating components: IM seems to produce a type of thinking and collaboration that EM doesn't. In essence, they create two different experiences. Learning for the sake of learning, on the individual and group level, seems to free one's potential for progress from limitations because the end goal is intangible. There are fewer limits when one is not working to fulfill a given number of hours or earn a certain amount of money.

The Soma Experiment: Rewards' Effect on Intrinsic Motivation
One of the most fascinating examples Shirky uses to explore IM and EM and their effect on eachother is an experiment he refers to as the "Soma Experiment." 

The Soma experiment was performed in 1970 by a psychologist named Edward Deci at the University of Rochester. In the experiment, Deci gave participants a puzzle game known as "Soma"(hence the name of the experiment). The participants were given a certain amount of time to try and solve the puzzles and then Deci would leave the room. What Deci did not tell the participants is that he observed them while he was out of the room, and recorded the amount of time they spent on the puzzle while the experiment was "not being conducted" (at least as far as they knew).

  1. In the first session, the participants were not offered a reward for solving the puzzles. 
  2. In the second session, half of the returning participants repeated the exact same process, while the other half of the participants were given a dollar for each shape they assembled.
    • When Deci left the room to "give the participants a break," he found that, on average, the paid participants experimented with the puzzles for one minute more than they had during the "break" of the previous session.
  3. In the third session, all participants were given the same conditions as in the first session: no one was paid.
    • During the "break," Deci found that, on average, the amount of time that the participants who had been paid in the second session spent playing with the puzzles dropped by two minutes from the time spent during the second session.
      • This means that they spent a minute less experimenting with the puzzles in the third session than they did in the first session, even though they weren't paid in the first session either. 
    Shirky's summary of Soma experiment: 
    (might be a bit over-generalized, but it still offers lots of food for thought)

    "In psychological literature, experiments designed to illuminate voluntary engagement are called 'free choice' tests--when someone has control over his actions, how likely is he to engage in a particular behavior? Deci's Soma experiment found that payment for working with the puzzle depressed free choice for the same activity. Deci's conclusion was that human motivation isn't purely additive. Doing something because it interests you makes it a different activity than doing it because you are reaping an external reward."(72)

    "Receiving sufficient payment can make otherwise undesirable activity desirable and worthwhile. (Thus is society able to employ garbage collectors.) But Deci's experiment suggested that extrinsic motivations aren't always the most effective ones and that increasing extrinsic motivations can actually decrease intrinsic ones." (72)

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