Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Lazaridis School of Business and Economics
Dr. Leslie Berger
Dr. Lan Guo
My thesis investigates the effectiveness of gamification in harnessing boredom and improving performance in a repetitive work process. In video games, “loot” rewards are unpredictable, intermittent gains used to motivate players to repeat boring actions. In a 2 X 2 experiment, I examine how loot rewards in point form may impact 1) disengagement, which is an immediate outcome of boredom, and 2) performance in settings where the points have and do not have cash value, respectively. More specifically, I manipulate the level of point reward unpredictability (fixed versus loot) and whether point rewards have cash value (absent versus present).
In the setting where the cash value of point rewards is absent, I hypothesize that loot point rewards have countervailing effects on disengagement. On the one hand, the reinforcement theory of motivation and neuroscience findings on the relationship between dopamine and unpredictable rewards suggest that loot point rewards can reduce disengagement by enhancing individuals’ perception of the attractiveness of the repetitive work task. On the other hand, conventional motivation theories (e.g., agency theory and equity theory) predict that loot point rewards may increase disengagement by triggering fairness concerns. My findings support the above expectations. As a result of the countervailing effects, I fail to find a significant difference in either disengagement or performance between the fixed and loot point reward conditions.
When cash value of point rewards is present, consistent with my hypothesis, the positive effect of loot point rewards on perceived task attractiveness is attenuated. However, different from my expectation, cash value does not exacerbate the negative effect of loot point rewards on fairness perception. Despite a lack of significant difference in disengagement between the fixed and loot point rewards conditions, interestingly, there is evidence that performance is higher when loot point rewards are provided, possibly via other motivational mechanisms I do not capture in my study (e.g., loss aversion).
By disentangling the motivational effect of loot point rewards, I contribute to reconciling the seemingly contradicting insights from conventional motivation theories and neuroscience research. Further, to the best of my knowledge, my thesis is among the first to directly measure disengagement in a scalable work process in a laboratory experiment setting. Lastly, findings from my thesis add to the growing management accounting research on using novel rewards (e.g., gift cards, thank-you notes, charity donation on behalf of employees) to motivate employees. Overall, my thesis informs managers about the possibility of incorporating gamification rewards into repetitive work processes to influence employees’ emotional experience and performance at work.
Zhao, Zhuoyi, "Decipher the Effect of Gamification in Harnessing Boredom and Improving Performance" (2021). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2389.