Small reward

Consider a small reward rather than a big one. People will be forced to create justifications, which increase the perceived value of the reward.


  • Despite the low payout for completing tasks on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site, providers (who tend to refer to themselves as Turkers) keep coming back. One commenter, posting on says “I am spending way too much time on turking, kinda like when I used to play WoW. Do you guys find it addictive? The payout is like a score, and as you get qualifications, it’s like getting levels. It’s like I’m playing a game.”


In 1959, Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith found that in situations where there is cognitive dissonance between effort and return, people will be forced to create justifications for working so hard for a small reward, thus increasing their perceived value of the reward. Giving a larger reward just fits into their expectations and so doesn’t create dissonance that needs to be resolved.

How to use this pattern

  • Provide just a small reward in order to make people create their own reasons for participating. They will come to believe and defend those reasons as a way to resolve cognitive dissonance.
  • It might help to also subtly provide a couple of sample justifications that people could use to help accept this small reward.