Money Motivated

Statistics from the non-partisan Economic policy institute show that chief executive pay jumped more than 725 percent in 2013 in comparison to a 5.7 percent rise in the wages of average workers, this disparity between the highest earners and others seems to be widening

In the aftermath of the economic downturn, senior executives and bankers have been scrutinised and often branded as ‘fat cats’ because of their high salaries and substantial reward packages. This has led to outcries from various constituent groups to examine the pay of senior executives, bankers and CEOs more closely. From a psychological perspective paying more to those in charge may not actually be the most effective way of motivating them.

Does more money mean more motivation?

Ever since people started to appreciate management as a science it has been common belief that the most effective way of motivating employees is through the use of wage incentives. More money = more motivation; is the mantra followed by most firms. The psychological explanation is that an individual is most motivated through the use of external rewards like increases in salary and bonuses; this method is often referred to as extrinsic motivation. The reasoning is that human behaviour is goal orientated. So bankers and senior executives are motivated to increase their efficiency in order to increase the incentives they receive, in theory.

In 1972 Edward Deci argued that there is another way to motivate. There are certain behaviours that people will do and do well, not for any tangible rewards but instead for their own inherent rewards. These behaviours are intrinsically motivated. Deci wondered whether these two types of motivation could coincide with each other. What he found was that the more tangible  rewards one received the less intrinsically motivated one was. Basically if you are motivated by money, that is likely to be the only thing you’re motivated by. Bankers are rewarded with huge bonuses and rises in annual salary so you can say they are extrinsically motivated. But how does this tangible motivation affect how well senior executives and bankers work?

Are the bonuses related to firm performance?

What does the data tell us? If senior executives are being paid more and their firms are benefitting from this increased motivation then surely large salaries are justified? Well data into the relationship between senior executive pay and firm performance is contradictory and inconclusive. Some studies show that the more they pay out the higher the firm performance is, others find no relationship between the two. Some senior executives may argue that firm performance is a poor indicator of individual performance though. Some firms have good senior executives but perform poorly others have poor ones and perform well. It seems like firm performance is influenced by a whole bunch of different factors.

Excess pay – creativity and company morale

Psychologist Dan Pink recently argued that over incentivising actually dulls thinking and creativity. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank into different tasks unearthed some interesting truths about how different types of motivation can impact our cognition. They found that the more money you paid individuals the poorer their performance was in certain tasks. Anything involving mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected, the higher the pay the better the performance. Once the task involved creativity, thinking outside of the box or even ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’, a larger reward led to a drop in ability.

One step further, do these big wages effect team morale and chemistry within organisations? Yes, negatively. There is evidence to prove that paying senior executives too much money can lead to unrest amongst those that are underpaid. The more income equality in an organisation leads to more emotional distress in employees who are paid less. This is because relative wealth is just as important as absolute wealth. Business psychologists refer to this as the equity theory. An individual considers that they are treated fairly if they perceive the ratio of their input to their outcomes equivalent to those who are around them. Businesses may find that those lower down in the organisation will not work as hard because they see the disparity in wages as being unfair.

Why do we keep paying our bankers and senior executives these large sums?

Many people refer to the tournament theory. This happens when wage differences are based not on marginal productivity but instead on relative differences between the individuals. Basically companies pay huge sums of money to senior bankers to motivate those below them to work harder for promotions. By encouraging this type of competition within the company they believe it means everyone will work harder. But since the majority of incentives are offered in the form of immediate tangible rewards it has been argued that this has led to increased risk-taking. Large incentives mean they deliberately ignore long-term risks in pursuit of short-term goals. 

What actually works then?

Well from a psychological perspective it is obviously abit more complex than just paying more. Just paying more decreases intrinsic motivation, encourages risk-taking and discourages those in the company working at the base. What businesses should focus on instead is not simply just rewarding CEOs, bankers and executives with more money but instead try to intrinsically motivate them.  One way of doing this is by rewarding them with stocks. By doing this you give them a higher shareholding which means they become more dependent on the companies wellbeing. Every move they make will directly affect them. It means they become one with the company in a sense. This type of intrinsic motivation has been proven to encourage creativity and innovation.

Questions may be raised when offering those at the top higher share holdings. It’s basically giving more power to those who have the majority of it already. People suggest that this means they have less people to answer to and can distribute large contracts to themselves. However, if you create a board independent of any senior executives, a board tasked to manage salaries and compensation/rewards in order to review and control remuneration thereby ensuring wages and bonuses stay at the desired level.

It’s definitely a business model that works. Companies such as John Lewis and Ben & Jerry’s, have followed a business plan of rewarding executives with share holdings as opposed to monetary rewards. These companies have proven that it is a successful and sustainable model. It is not just a case of increasing motivation, but with less monetary incentives wage disparity between the highest and lowest incomes within the company shorten. Less differences between wages results in higher work satisfaction right the way through an organisation.

Maybe these large bonuses are more of a hindrance than help. There is still a difference between what science knows and what business does. Science has proven that the extrinsic methods used to reward executives only works in a rare set of circumstances. The secret to high performance is not found in rewards and punishments but instead as a result of unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things for their own sake and benefit.

Musa Clarke

Dream Away


Daydreaming and latent inhibition have continuously been linked to creativity
In the last 50 years there has been increased focus on the scientific study of daydreaming. Most researchers identify similar themes: the striking continuity between night dreaming and day dreaming and the ability of creative people to harness this continuity. Neuroscience has allowed us to take this research to new and creative heights by identifying what actually occurs in the brain of day dreamers and it’s links to creativity.

As we drift off to sleep, our working memory network, consisting primarily of the lateral frontal and parietal cortices, switches off. This brain network is the one that involves attention to the outside world, immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. Once this brain network deactivates our default brain network takes over; also referred to as the resting brain. It involves aspects of our self, such as our self representations, dreams, imagination, current concerns, autobiographical memory and perspective taking ability. The default network involves our most inner streams of consciousnessInterestingly, those with higher default brain network activity during rest have a tendency to day dream more frequently.

When most of us awaken, our working memory brain network re-engages, and our default brain network withers into the background. In most people the working memory network and default network ‘anti correlate’ with each other, meaning that when one network is activated the other is deactivated. This is definitely a good thing! Proper connectivity between the two networks allows people to know when to distinguish between pure fantasy (their inner stream of consciousness) and reality (the external world). But that’s most people… 

Schizophrenics tend to have an overactive default network. Creative folks also exhibit an overactive default network. Prior research has suggested that the thing that seems to differentiate creative but functional individuals and those with mental illnesses is that creatives have the ability to engage their default network and working memory network simultaneously. Those who lose grip on reality and become paranoid and delusional have let the floodgates down, so to speak, letting too much of their default network control their attention.

Researchers investigated the functional brain characteristics of participants while they engaged in a working memory task. No participants had a history of neurological or psychiatric illness, all had intact working memory abilities. They administered two different versions of the same working memory task during an fMRI scanning session, one vision requiring much more concentration than the other. The  more difficult working memory task required constant updating of information in memory while having to resist distraction.

They also explored creativity and the default brain network by asking participants to display their creativity in a number of ways. They had to generate unique ways of using a typical object, imagine desirable functions in ordinary objects and imagine the consequences of unimaginable things happening. These tests have previously been linked to openness to experience and frequency of visual hypnagogic experiences (e.g. Lucid dreaming, hallucinations) which in turn have been linked to vividness of mental imagery.

The researchers found that the more creative the participant, the more activity in their default mode network was altered. Particularly, creative individuals had difficulty suppressing the preceneus area of their default network while engaging in the more effortful working memory task. The preceneus is the area of the default network that typically displays the highest levels of activation during rest (when a person is not focusing on an external task). Creatives exhibit more activation in this area than those that are not, and so do those with schizophrenia. The preceneus has been linked to self-related mental representations and episodic memory retrieval.

How is it conducive to creativity? Researchers state that an inability to suppress seemingly unnecessary cognitive activity may actually help creative subjects in associating two ideas represented in different networks. Intriguingly, prior research has shown a similar inability to deactivate the default network among those with working memory deficits, as well as schizophrenic individuals and their relatives (who are more likely to have schizotypy). The key to functional creativity then seems to be the ability to keep ones internal stream of consciousness ‘on call’ while being able to concentrate on a task. 

Jonah Lerner discusses the importance of daydreaming and distractions for creativity. He mentions a recent study showing that A.D.H.D. is associated with creative acheivement. A Harvard study found a sample of high I.Q. individuals that were eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to have reduced latent inhibition. Latent inhibition is a filtering mechanism that we share with other animals, and it is tied to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It involves the ability to consider something as relevant even if it was previously tagged as irrelevant. A reduced latent inhibition allows us to treat something as novelty, no matter how many times we’ve seen it before. 
However, latent inhibition is not related to cognitive style; intelligence and latent inhibition seem to be independent abilities. Those with a reduced latent inhibition have more confidence in their intuitions! This is likely down to the fact that those with a reduced latent inhibition actually have more accurate intuitions. It is not a measure of distractibility, latent inhibition tasks measure a form of mental flexibility. It’s not that people who have a reduced latent inhibition always treat the irrelevant as relevant; it’s just that they consider everything as potentially relevant. And this is conducive to creativity because sometimes the seemingly irrelevant is relevant.

How can this research impact our lives? We need to broaden our definition of ‘productive’ thinking. For too long we’ve assumed that every thought process that is not focused attention is a waste of time. We have trained our children to believe that the only way to succeed is to stare at the blackboard or to fixate on the lesson plan. That may not be the way.

It’s reflected in how teachers view their students. A study showed that although teachers said they wanted a classroom full of creatives they were mistaken. In fact, when the teachers were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from ‘individualistic’ to ‘risk-seeking’ to ‘accepting authority’. The traits most closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their least favourite students. 

Judgements for the favourite students were negatively correlated with creativity; judgements for the least favourite students were positively correlated with creativity

The classroom then is not designed for impulsive expression – that’s known as talking out of turn. Instead it’s all about obeying group dynamics and paying strict attention. Those are important life skills of course but psychological research seems to suggest such skills have little to do with creativity.

Musa Clarke

Seeing Sounds and Tasting Shapes – Synaesthesia the Phenomenon


Duke Ellington – Arguably the greatest Jazz composers had Synaesthesia


I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one colour. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different colour. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colours that you do but I see them in textures                                                                                                                    Duke Ellington

Over 100 years ago a bizarre condition surfaced, Francis Galton (1880) reported a disorder called Synaesthesia. He noticed that some patients produced a sensation in one modality after a stimulus was applied to another. As when hearing a certain sound evokes the visualisation of a certain colour. However, Synaesthesia can come in many forms, for example the printed number ‘5’ always ‘looks’ green where as ‘2’ may ‘look’ red or every time you taste garlic you feel a square shape in your hand. Following the increased study into the condition what is more fascinating than its uniqueness is what it can teach us about the average mind.

The incredible difference in Synaesthetes is that they retain second senses vividly. As much as you might think of cold when looking at an ice cube you never actually feel it. However, in our everyday life we mix two senses, we may say the cheese tasted ‘sharp’ or her smile was ‘warm’. In much of literature you will find an array of metaphors and similes that mix two senses.

Many argue then that the disorder is just an extreme version of a quality that all humans share in. This incredible ability to map one sense to another is said to have been the base for the development of language as was demonstrated in a study by Ramachandran and Hubbard. They used two different objects and asked participants to identify which one was named ‘boobaa’ and which ‘kiki’. 95 percent identified the round blob like item as ‘boobaa’ and the sharp angular object as ‘kiki’. They then stated the reason behind this was the sharp phonemic inflections of the sounds ‘KI-KI’.


BooBaa and KiKi

This experiment led to a landslide in literature about how humans map one completely independent cortical area to another in order to derive answers. It birthed the idea that there is a subconscious Synaesthesia that includes sensory to motor association in the human mind. Considering it in the context of language development many, not all, languages follow similar patterns, for example, in English adjectives denoting large objects contain rounded vowels and involve widening the vocal tract and lips (LARGE; HUGE; ENORMOUS). Similar patterns appear in other adjectives, by narrowing the lips when it comes to words that describe small objects (tiny; minute; miniature). We subconsciously naturally associate two unrelated senses. Something as simple as dancing, which comes naturally to most of us, is the product of us mapping our motor cortical areas against our audio sensory areas. It’s these everyday things that research into Synaesthesia has helped us garner further understanding of.

So why do some experience this phenomenon at greater intensity than most? Synaesthesia is a heritable condition, and is caused by a mutation gene that prevents the independence of certain modalities in the brain. What evolutionists discovered is that having Synaesthesia provides adaptive benefit. Synaesthesia has been linked to creativity, with the disorder more common among artists and musicians. Being creative means you are more sexually attractive since creativity indicates genetic quality. By having Synaesthesia you will benefit in regards to sexual selection. Other benefits of having Synaesthesia come in memory. Synaesthete Daniel Tammet used his associations to memorise pi to 22,514 digits. Demonstrations like this point to a link between synesthetic experiences with cognitive and perceptual anchors that help in retention of critical stimuli in the world, which would have been invaluable to our ancestors.

How does Synaesthesia work? Most research into the disorder suggest that it is likely to be a consequence of cross wiring between two independent brain regions. Fascinating stuff, considering the most common type of Synaesthesia is grapheme-colour (visual stimuli, numbers or letters with colours). The visual grapheme and colour areas both reside within the fusiform gyrus in very close proximity to one another. Meaning an increased likelihood of cross wiring between them. The closeness of these two areas is particularly prevalent in the left hemisphere which helps in explaining why the majority of synaesthetes are non-right handers, since handedness is hemisphere specific.

So why don’t we all have cross wiring in our brains? It is known that the cross wiring in the brain is a result of defective synaptic pruning between different brain areas. Developmental theories suggest that infants are born with the mixing of senses but as we get older synaptic pruning takes place until all the senses become disentangled from one another. Studies show that in the first two months of life there are wide spread cortical responses to visual and audio stimuli. When a baby hears a funny sound their eyes will open up widely, as if they are seeing sounds. This is demonstrated in the video: A baby’s response to funny noises. Their little brains are not completely pruned and separated so more than one sense is activated by one stimuli. This means that everyone has Synaesthesia in the early periods of their life but as we grow older our brain regions separate as each region becomes more specialised.

Musa Clarke

The Dark Triad – Why Women Love Bad Personalities

  1. Narcissism – the inordinate fascination with oneself
  2. Psychopathy – an individual who manifests amoral and antisocial behaviour, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful relationships
  3. Machiavellianism – subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency or dishonesty

These three personality traits all correlate with each other meaning if you score highly on one of them there is an increased likelihood you will rate highly in the other two. Together they are known as the Dark Triad. For years the Dark Triad traits have been scrutinised by evolutionists because they are socially undesirable yet some women, although conventional wisdom tells them that they should be weary of such characters, may find them rather charming. Now, studies into this personality type have provided new and exciting insights into this vexing phenomenon.

Being high in the Dark Triad provides some adaptive benefit, that much is certain, since it is a common personality trait across a variety of cultures. But what are these benefits? Having a Dark personality has shown links to other traits such as being emotionally stable, having resilient self-esteem and even increased sexual success. Researchers have continually argued that the Dark Triad, as socially undesirable as it is, provides some kind of benefit to individuals irrespective of its cost to society.

What evolutionists do know for certain, is that individuals high in these traits tend to mate differently, and with mating being key to evolution this may be an area where it is of benefit to have a Dark Triad personality.  Research has shown that they pursue competition and novelty in their love lives by attempting to steal mates off others and are more likely to leave their current relationships in pursuit of new exciting ones. Coupled with the fact they report more sexual success; possessing these traits may mean one employs a mating style characterised by the pursuit of short term mating opportunities (e.g. no strings attached, one night stands) and the failure to maintain long term mateships. It was also discovered that men score higher on these traits, which may explain why on average males show a less restricted sociosexuality. A collection of evolutionary theories have been used to explain this phenomenon, and when put together it makes for a compelling explanation of why these personality types still exist.

Life History Theory describes differences in the amount of resources an individual will allocate to somatic effort (i.e. resources devoted to continued survival) and reproductive effort (i.e. resources dedicated to mating). Although it is often used to explain species level differences, it has become increasingly popular in explaining differences within the human population. The easiest way to understand these differences is that individuals may choose to adopt relatively fast life strategies whereby they discount long-term gains in favour of the short-term. An individual can have one child and dedicate all their resources to that one child assuring they are quality offspring (slow life strategy) or they can have many children dedicating little to no resources to each, hoping rather than expecting each will reproduce (fast life strategy).

This is likely to be the reason why males score higher on the traits. If a female had a Dark Triad personality and expended more energy on reproduction opportunities she is likely to incur more costs (minimum of 9months investment in unwanted offspring) than if a male does whose minimum investment is the time it takes to copulate. This disparity in parental investment explains why the  Dark Triad is considered to be a male adapted trait, since consistently employing a short term mating strategy is more adaptive to men. Indeed, studies do show that females preference in relationships are largely influenced by the potential mates willingness to provide investment and paternal care.

There is a twist in the tale! Theorists proposed that ancestral women evolved to engage in mixed mating strategies in which romantic relationships were pursued dependent on social constructs in order to enhance reproductive fitness. Research shows that women’s mate preferences systematically differ in short-term vs long-term scenarios. In many cultures women place more importance on the muscularity and physical attractiveness of mates when evaluating them as short term partners. These patterned differences in women’s mate preferences for particular characteristics are explained by the Good Genes Sexual Selection Theory. In humans there are differences in heritable fitness. Since individuals cannot directly read fitness effects of a potential mates genes any preference for others who have good genes must be based on traits or attributes that correlate with heritable fitness, these are referred to as good gene indicators. This means that when women are willing to partake in short-term mating, they are only willing to do so with a mate that indicates good heritable fitness, or possesses qualities that indicate ‘good genes’.

Many researchers argue that women deem males high in the Dark Triad as attractive because having this personality indicates good genetic quality. This is why men who score highly on Dark Triad measures report more sexual success. This was then tested in an experiment of 102 female university students, and what was found was fascinating.

Women were attracted to the Dark Triad personality but their attraction significantly increased when it was attached to other attributes of genetic quality (muscularity, physical attractiveness, creativity). In other words, despite an individual possessing the Dark Triad personality, which is largely seen as socially undesirable, individuals who have no heritable fitness (facial attractiveness, physical strength, height) would pay steep reproductive costs if they had this personality without actually having good genes. The classic prototype of one such sexually selected feature is the peacocks tail, which would seem to be of no benefit to the peacocks survival yet; those peacocks who are most physically fit can afford to possess a grand tail, and so the more extravagant the tail the better genes the peacock has. The Dark Triad personality could work the same, such a social species like humans means having a dark personality could be a hindrance more than a help. The more you can exhibit such personality traits and still survive the more genetic quality you have because you are living life with a high amount of risk. This explains why the Dark Triad is often linked to other indicators of genetic quality such as physical attractiveness and social dominance. 

If exhibiting a Dark Triad personality is similar to a peacock brandishing his tail then women must be able to notice such personalities when they are at their most fertile and most likely to conceive, during ovulation. In the second part of the study we tested whether women’s preference for this personality differs over the course of the ovulatory cycle. How this works is that when women are most likely to conceive they exhibit increased attraction to indicators of good genes and place less importance on stability and paternal investment in an attempt to secure the best possible genes for their offspring. What was found is that during periods of ovulation women rated Dark Triad males as more attractive as a father, in a long term and short term relationship, indicating that at their most fertile women pick up on the Dark Triad and deem it as more attractive proving that a Dark Personality is an indicator of good genes. 

What the study found was that women are more attracted to men with dark personalities but only in specific contexts, so they do find these personalities as attractive but not all the time. It can be argued that women deem dark personalities as sexy however they are not really a consideration for long term relationships, unless women are ovulating. It is not really possible for a male to lack genetic quality, be high in the dark triad and be sexually successful, since the Dark Triad is not a direct marker of good genes instead it just suggests that a man has genetic quality. This means it is very costly for a man with a low standard of genetic quality to employ this personality type. So women are attracted to Dark Triad personalities but that doesn’t mean you can fake it!

Musa Clarke