Crowd Motivators: Why Do People Compete?

Its really strange that competitions push us on. Even in situations where incentives are not presented, people still compete for a form of intangible profit. In primary school, when my teacher transformed an ordinary, content-heavy science topic into a game, I remembered really enjoying participating even if no award was attached to it. This could be explained by the competitive behaviour in each of us. Competitive behaviour can be defined as “the pursuit of assets perceived to be scarce and contested” [1] or “desire to win”, with a preference for maximising relative payoffs, even at personal cost” [2]. By tapping into this nature of individuals, these crowdsourcing contests have removed many limitations (e.g. inertia to work on solutions, physical proximity, time, etc.).

Social facilitation with social transparency online

Interestingly, the openness of crowdsourcing competition sites like Climate CoLab where everyone can assess your proposal and criticise you is a good thing! Psychologically, social facilitation supposes that individuals will perform better in the task they are good in when in front of an audience. [3] The reverse is also true; one will perform worse in a task they are poor in when observed by others. In a competition reward scheme, in which individuals competed against each other and the reward depended on how much they outperformed their opponent, increasing social transparency  (in this case: not being able to hide behind a false identity and having their proposals made public) could augment effects of social facilitation by providing more incentives for indivudals to outperform their opponent [4]. As such, when it come to broader, bigger sustainability problems which require a great deal of thought, crowdsourcing contests are definitely the way to go.

Motivations: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

Establishing that individuals have a great desire in them for success, we can now examine the two main sources that stir this desire: (1) Intrinsic and (2) Extrinsic Motivation.

According to a research on crowdsourcing, intrinsic motivations can indeed improve the quality of workers’ output [5].Highly intrinsically motivated people often compete either to (1) improve their performance, having little or no regard for winning [6] or (2) hope to contribute their two cents worth to research because of their love for the cause. On crowdsourcing sites, I believe that many of these participants are not motivated solely by reward. Writing and researching on engineering of water saving technology or strategies to change people’s perspective of climate change are not easy tasks. These people commit a part of their lives to think about these issues because they feel for the cause. Intrinsic motivators have proven to increase the participant’s satisfaction and, hence, motivating him even in the toughest times [7].

On Climate CoLab, extrinsic motivations are also available to motivate participants. Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 11.02.44 pm.png

  1. Money ($10,000 Grand Prize and cash awards)
  2. Opportunities (Join the Climate CoLab Winner’s Program + carrying out one’s proposal)
  3. fame/ feature (Present proposal to MIT)

I was really curious and did a simple survey to see which of these opportunities appeal most of my peers. The survey has its limitations. Deciding on which is the best motivator require a long process of deliberation and requires context (e.g. circumstances in a person’s life). However, I wanted to test how people would react on the go. I first got participants to think of an industry they have a passion in and stated several examples like engineering, design, research and more. Following that, they had to choose which prize would motivate them the most:

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.06.31 pm.png

Evidently, the cash prize of $10,000 is the most popular prize of them all.  However, Edward Daci said that “over-emphasis on financial reward undermines autonomy and therefore intrinsic motivation”. A research on large prize motivators showed that performance will worsen with a larger prize as this increases activity in brain regions excessively and dominate one’s decision-making abilities, leading him/her to make more mistakes [8]. Climate CoLab could downplay the attractiveness of its cash prize by up playing the attractiveness of other opportunities! Reducing the cash prize could also help to decrease the focus on the prize but still retain a healthy number of respondents.

Second most popular motivator is the opportunity to join a winner’s program in the related field. I found that this could motivate individuals who do not sufficient funds for  their brilliant ideas. The once, intrinsic motivation can unleash its full potential with this opportunity. As such, this may be better than cash prizes.

Cooperation amidst competition

This was one aspect I really likes about Climate CoLab, so I decided to include a small writeup here. According to Johnson et al., cooperation is considerably more effective than interpersonal competition and individualistic effort in predicting success [9]. As such, I found Climate CoLab’s open discussion system and collaborative nature great! These can help increase the likelihood of better quality proposals.

This is an appeal from individuals looking for group members who can complement them:

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 11.06.58 pm.png

Collaborative nature creates a safe space for improvement:

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.27.08 pm.png

Overall, Climate CoLab provides a great platform that maximises performance. It could improve by making reducing the financial prizes or spreading the award among a team.


[1] Deutsch, M. (1949). A theory of co-operation and competition. Human Relations, 2, 129–152.


[3] Strauss, Bernd (July 2002). “Social facilitation in motor tasks: a review of research and theory”.Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (3): 237–256. doi:10.1016/S1469-0292(01)00019-x






[9] Johnson, D. W., Maruyama, G., Johnson, R. & Nelson, D. (1974). Effects of cooperative, competitive. and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 44, 2 I j-240.



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