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December 2017

IRF Examines Reward Presentation & Attraction

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The Incentive Research Foundation released "Reward Presentation and Attraction: A Biometric Experiment," the second report detailing the findings from the IRF's first-of-a-kind biometric experiment. The study examines how people prefer to receive recognition and rewards, exploring different drivers of award presentation preferences and suggesting ways to determine effective approaches to make the presentation impactful on the recipient.

"This study provides new and deeper insight into reward-earner preference—at both the conscious and unconscious levels—in the presentation of rewards and recognition," said Melissa Van Dyke, IRF president. "Some people prefer a great deal of pomp and ceremony when they are recognized, while others prefer just a verbal or written note of appreciation along with the reward that accompanies it. Ultimately, our results demonstrate a highly-individualized range of preference."

In the experiment, each of the 42 subjects listened to a series of four reward presentation scenarios: "Big Show," "Little Show," "Peer-to-Peer," and "Private." The subjects' responses were assessed using two biometric techniques. Pupil dilation was used to measure arousal and interest. Behavioral Approach System (BAS) measured "appetitive motives," and Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) measured avoidance. In more general terms, BIS/BAS measures a person's unconscious preference for different kinds of experiences.

The experiment supports the large body of research that suggests at least some form of public recognition is important to all reward earners. It also adds new evidence that smaller presentations may be more effective and meaningful than big, company-wide events for most people. Key findings include:

  • Subjects' unconscious reactions and conscious choice indicate a greater preference for a "Little Show."
  • The "Private" presentation rated consistently last in its ability to "arouse" the interests of the subjects.
  • Men were evenly split in their attraction to the "Big Show," "Little Show," and "Peer-to-Peer" presentation.
  • Women were attracted more to "Peer-to-Peer" both in their explicit conscious ratings and unconsciously as assessed by pupil dilation.
  • Sales people were less attracted to the "Big Show" than non-sales people.
  • Millennials appear significantly more drawn to "Peer-to-Peer" presentations than other options.

While visible indicators such as age, gender and job type are typically used to base assumptions on what people might want, the results reveal new, invisible indicators that are strikingly important in customizing effective reward presentation strategies.

"Reward Presentation and Attraction: A Biometric Experiment" was supported by IRF Research Advocacy Partner Maritz. To view or download a copy, visit