What Are Negative and Positive Incentives?

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Positive incentives seek to motivate others by promising a reward, whereas negative incentives aim to motivate others by threatening a punishment. Opinion is divided as to what works best, but both have applications in a variety of settings.

Only recently, for instance, has public opinion turned decisively against corporal punishment as a means of encouraging obedience in children, whether at home or at school.

In the workplace, too, traditional incentives for productivity have been the threat of unemployment or docked pay, whereas it has become more common since the 1980s for companies to motivate their staff with positive incentives instead, such as promotions and financial bonuses.