Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 377–385 | Cite as

Conscientiousness and effort-related cardiac activity in response to piece-rate cash incentives

  • Kelly L. Harper
  • Paul J. Silvia
  • Kari M. Eddington
  • Sarah H. Sperry
  • Thomas R. Kwapil
Original Paper


Although conscientiousness predicts many aspects of motivation, from delay of gratification to higher achievement, its relationship to responses to monetary incentives is surprisingly inconsistent. Several studies have found null or negative relationships between conscientiousness and behavioral performance in piece-rate, pay-for-performance tasks, in which people earn money for each unit of work completed. In the present study, we examined the role of conscientiousness in effort-related cardiac activity and behavioral performance during a pay-for-performance task. People worked on a self-paced, piece-rate cognitive task in which they earned 1 cent or 5 cents, manipulated within-person, for each correct response. Conscientiousness predicted greater physiological effort (i.e., shorter pre-ejection period [PEP] reactivity) as incentives increased but had no effect on behavioral performance. The findings suggest that conscientiousness is significantly related to effort for piece-rate tasks, and they reinforce a core idea in motivational intensity theory: effort, performance, and persistence are distinct outcomes that often diverge, so drawing conclusions about effort from performance can be complex.


Conscientiousness Effort Motivation Incentives Impedance cardiography Pre-ejection period 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under award number R15MH079374. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Some of these findings were presented at the annual meetings of the Southeastern Psychological Association and the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists. We’re grateful to Sherrod Hinson, Ashley McHone, Zuzana Mironovová, David Kyle Nelson, and Jackson Thomas for their assistance with this research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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