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The Candle Problem – Something to think about with Motivation

by on February 25, 2010

Here’s something to think about as we talk about incentives and motivation:

“The candle problem,” a psychological experiment created by Karl Duncker in 1935.

A person is brought into a room and given a candle, a box of thumbtacks and matches and asked to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn’t drip on to the table. The person who can solve the candle problem is one who, rather than seeing the box as receptacle for the tacks, sees it as something that can be used in the solution. The box is tacked to the wall and the candle placed on it.

Two groups of people are offered the problem — the first group is simply timed and the second group is offered rewards. It takes the second group three and and a half minutes longer than the first group, on average, to solve the problem.

In other words, the incentive blocks their creativity.  Also interesting:

Another experiment was done with the problem presented in a slightly different way. The tacks were taken out of the box, and then the incentivzed group did much better than the other. Pink says this is because it’s an easy problem. For these types of tasks of narrow focus, where you can see the goal right there, rewards work really well.

What do you think about this?  Does it match up with anything you’ve observed in life or your own behavior? 

The full article is



From → Good to Know

One Comment
  1. Interesting article .Though the experiment states that the people who were just timed got it done much faster than the people who were often rewards,I am just curious if the reason for the higher speed was a sense of competitiveness among the first group with each other to do it the fastest without any distractions.

    There is nothing mentioned in the article that the people in the second group who finished it faster would be offered better rewards (though it might seem logical) and it was not a case of competition among the group members but a competition with self trying to achieve a set goal.

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