The Neuroscience of Motivation: How Rewards Activate the Brain and Drive Performance

Keep your business at the peak of excellence by finding out what really motivates your team so you can reward and recognize them for the incredible work they do.


July 10, 2023


Insights, Global

Motivation is a critical component of performance in the workplace. When employees are motivated, they are more engaged, productive, and satisfied with their work. However, motivating employees can be challenging. That’s where the science of motivation comes in. By understanding the neuroscience behind motivation, we can design more effective strategies for driving employee performance and engagement.

Here at Credico, we encourage the organizations we consult with to explore the relationship between motivation and performance and how rewards can activate the brain and increase motivation.

Motivation is a complex phenomenon that neuroscientists and psychologists have studied for many years. It is believed to be driven by the activation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Dopamine is released when we anticipate rewards, which can lead to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Serotonin, on the other hand, is associated with feelings of contentment and well-being. Research has also found that three main factors influence our motivation: our physiological state, environment, and our own thoughts and beliefs. Self-determination theory suggests that intrinsic motivation (motivation from within) is more powerful than extrinsic motivation (motivation from external sources). By understanding how motivation works in the brain, we can gain insight into how to motivate ourselves and others better.

When we experience something rewarding, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in motivation and learning. This is because dopamine signals to the brain that the experience is valuable and worth repeating, reinforcing the behavior that led to the reward.

Credico points out that rewards can take many forms. Financial incentives such as bonuses or commissions are one common type of reward, but they are not the only option. Recognition, such as praise or awards, can also be effective rewards that activate the brain’s reward center. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employees who received recognition for their work were more motivated and engaged than those who did not.

Opportunities for growth and development can also be powerful rewards that activate the brain’s reward center. For example, providing employees with training, mentorship, or challenging assignments can signal to the brain that the experience is valuable and worth repeating, leading to increased motivation and performance.

Different types of rewards may be more effective for different people or in different situations. To design an effective reward and recognition program, it’s important to consider factors such as employee preferences, job responsibilities, and business goals.

According to SHRM, 79% of workers say an increase in recognition rewards would make them more loyal to their employer. Recognition goes both ways, and where an organization recognizes employees, those employees are more likely to appreciate and value the business they’re part of.

Rewarding and recognizing employees for their work is a great way to drive performance. This type of recognition helps motivate employees and shows them their hard work is appreciated. It also encourages them to continue striving for excellence and achieving their goals. By providing rewards and recognition for good performance, employers can create an environment where employees feel valued and motivated to do their best.

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