Online Work Motivation: An Experiment of Instrumental and Moral Incentives

Zack Kertcher and David Hachen
The 23rd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. 2011.
Publication Date: 
June, 2011

Repetitive, non-creative tasks constitute a significant portion of daily work. While social scientists have generally overlooked the motivational determinants for the performance of such micro-tasks, the rapid emergence of online distributed work—crowdsourcing—has shifted the empirical spotlight to this type of work. We utilize this empirical backdrop to test an age-old puzzle about the effect of moral incentives. We randomly allocated 239 subjects to four experimental conditions and asked all subjects to tag structural elements found in hundreds of photos depicting earthquake damage to buildings. Our findings provide a first-time empirical indication that moral incentives involving contributions to a public good are as potent a motivator as instrumental (economic) incentives. Results further highlight the positive effect that having information on how others are performing (social leverage) has on a subject’s own performance when instrumental incentives are being used. Implications of our findings for current theories, the emergent research on crowdsourcing, and future research are considered.