Beeminder Forum

Pro Positive Reinforcement: Zedmango's rebuttal

[[This was posted in the Common reactions to Beeminder thread but it was too much of a tangent there so I’m moving it here. I’m not sure if my admin powers let me change the post author to @zedmango but all of the following is by them! See also Positive reinforcement vs. punishment]]

I don’t find that persuasive:

Could Beeminder hold your money and give it back to you or use other tricks to reward you for success instead of punish you for failure?

This phrasing is a bit of a straw man, since as you point out, you’re still being punished for failure.
A better phrasing:

Could Beeminder better motivate you by taking your money up front and then paying you something upon success?

Ok, next you say:

Well, paying money up front and getting it back unless you derail is a trick – it’s equivalent to getting stung. At least for me personally, the equivalency would always be at the back of my mind and bother me.

I’m not sure what exactly bothers you here, but yes, the idea is that it’s equivalent to stinging you - it’s just a more motivating way of stinging you.

And there are more pragmatic problems. I like having scary high pledges on some of my goals. It would feel especially unreasonable to pay up front on those.

I’m not sure why it’s more unreasonable to pay a large sum of money up front – the money is at risk anyway, right? You could potentially lose it at any time. So what is unreasonable about paying it up front?

Even more pragmatically, most goals are open-ended: get 10k steps (or work 40 hours, or practice piano for half an hour or whatever) per day forever. There’s typically no particular point when it makes sense to get your money back. It would be totally inefficient to have money always flowing back and forth and would really muddy the mental accounting in terms of how much you’re paying Beeminder for the motivation it’s giving you.

I don’t think so. Just do it at regular intervals, like for a daily task, you could charge the user, say, $75 per week, and pay the user $10 per day they do the task.

And yes, muddying the mental accounting is kind of the point (this may be the part that bothers you). On one hand, you know you’re paying (in the above example) $5 for the weekly service, and then another $10 for each day you don’t do the task, but on the other hand, there’s the opportunity to “make” $10 by doing it, rather than avoid a loss of $10.

At least for me personally, that seems much, much more motivating. That might be an illusion, but if I think about doing a task, I know I’ll lose money if I don’t do it, but having that additional kick of getting a payment of $10 right away (with notifications and emails from my bank, etc, so I’m aware of it) just feels like it would make me more likely to do it.

I am aware of the research on loss aversion – people find it more motivating to avoid a loss than to gain – but in this scenario, you are still actually avoiding a loss but it’s framed as also being a gain. I don’t think the loss vs gain research applies directly to this scenario.

(Aside – Beeminder would also be much more motivating if I lost the money immediately when the deadline lapsed! The couple days’ delay in processing the payment really takes away from the mental connection and weakens the negative reinforcement.)

Not to mention the laws and accounting involved. We’d be kind of a bank and have revenue that wouldn’t count as revenue. I assume this part would be perfectly overcomeable if we were convinced the psychology / behavioral economics were right. But, again, we are not.

Yeah, this is easy to overcome in my opinion. You wouldn’t actually be any kind of bank or escrow, and your revenue would still count as revenue. You’re not actually holding money for the user. After all, they might not get any back. Rather, you’re charging, e.g., $75 for a weekly service, and that money is yours as soon as it is paid. Then you’re paying the user $10 for doing the task.

The entire thing should be thought of as a commitment contract between two parties that prescribes payments in both directions upon certain conditions being met (A pays Bee $75 weekly; Bee pays A $10 per day that A does the task).


A lot of this may come down to a matter of taste or personal psychology. I did try StepBet recently, where you pay in to a pot and if you stay on track for 6 weeks you get roughly your money back (I’m not sure what StepBet’s cut is and how likely it is that enough other people drop out that you make significantly more than you put in – for me I got back roughly what I put in). It worked great but not nearly as great as Beeminder, in my highly biased opinion.

If anything it’s the opposite for me. I mentally write off the money I ante and then am relatively unmoved by the prospect of earning it back. (I guess this would make it more lucrative from Beeminder’s perspective?)

Losing the interest on it, and just general transaction costs.

I think so, yeah.

I’m super curious how you’ll like StepBet!

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I’ve been instructed (by the Powers that Bee) to respond to mathwhiz1212 here, so:

I think it could work anyway. Just give yourself more in the Fun bucket and less in another one. Besides, how do you know that the video will bring in revenue?

If I understand correctly, the answer is that paying Beeminder $5 decreases the funds available, whereas paying yourself $5 doesn’t change your total funds but reallocates an extra $5 to the funds you can freely spend, right?



It totally could. You either need margin or income to create margin to make it work. To say you always need more income was incorrect of me to say. If you already have margin, just move it around. I get paid by the video to create videos, that’s my primary source of income.

I tend to work just enough to pay the bills and not actually make financial progress. I tend to prefer to cut things rather than make more money. But I need to make more money if I want to make financial progress (or fund positive reinforcement), hence the goal to make +1 video a month or equivalent.

Correct. There is a logical difference, but in my way of budgeting / doing positive reinforcement there isn’t an emotional difference because in either case my available blow money is either reduced or expanded by $5.

For me, adding positive reinforcement to Beeminder is easy. I can just pay the pledge on my goal if I fail and add more to my fun bucket if I succeed.

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I’m throwing in a data point in as someone who likes the StepBet model. I’m here on Beeminder because I didn’t find a ‘game’ that fit what I was looking for (something relaxed enough for me know I could win at it, as I ease back into exercising). I just need a little nudge here and there, a shove won’t be enough to get me to stay consistent.

I know that StepBet takes a percentage of the pot (or not, depending on the game/membership) and I wouldn’t mind paying a similar fee up front for the ability to be able to set up a ‘pay up front, receive money back’ scenario.


That’s why I keep my beeminder slopes gentle and my pledges fairly low. I work best with reminders that have minor consequences.

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