by Leo Jakobson | May 30, 2017
In an industry dedicated to motivating people to sell, engage, and motivate, understanding how and why people come to decisions is the stock-in-trade. That's a field that has been moving beyond distilled experience into the realm of science -- specifically neuroscience -- for more than a few years now, and the body of knowledge is growing every day.

And yet, what Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) President Melissa Van Dyke calls the emerging "research on what makes humans tick," is often discussed very vaguely or in a manner that is not very useful to non-scientists -- studies on topics such as oxytocin, dopamine, and the prefrontal cortex, for example, don't translate easily into usable tools for improving a reward and recognition program. 

That's why the IRF just released "Using Behavioral Economics Insights in Incentives, Rewards, and Recognition: The Neuroscience," a report that Van Dyke says is geared towards breaking this science down in a manner that helps planners and executives running incentives, recognition, and rewards programs to, "better understand what motivates employees and ultimately create more engaging and productive work environments."

The IRF is not alone in looking at the field of neuroeconomics. St. Louis-based Maritz, a leading firm in the incentive industry, has invested heavily for quite a while in turning neuroscience into better reward and recognition programs, and recently promoted its top neuroscience professional to a C-level position as Chief Behavioral Officer. 

The report covers a number of key takeaways, the IRF says, starting with the discovery that "all forms of reward are processed in the brain's master reward center and are experienced as rewarding feelings." 

What this means, the IRF says, is that "rewarding employees intrinsically by treating them better or rewarding them extrinsically with money, trips, or merchandise are treated equally in the brain. This important finding supports organizations shifting the emphasis in incentive programs to non-cash rewards to build more effective, fulfilling work environments."

Other topics covered in the report include:

* The Halo Effect informs us that more highly positive, emotional experiences increase positive emotion associated with the company.
* Emotional Stamps the markers that help us retrieve the memory, reinforce the necessity for incentive, rewards, and recognition (IRR) programs to tap emotions
* Frequency Bias suggests that the more reward and recognition happens within an organization, the more often it will continue to happen and "feel" like a normal part of business. 
* Temporal Bias explains why meetings and incentive travel programs should always end on a high, emotional note. 
* Drive to Bond promotes ensuring each instance of reward and recognition has a face-to-face element.
* Drive to Innovate explains why each instance of reward or recognition must help the employee learn the exact behaviors that are valued and important to the organization.