My favorite superhero is Batman. He evolved from his childhood trauma – his parent’s death, killed by a mugger – actively overcame his fears, and created a positive life’s work protecting the city of Gotham. Batman is self-made. He wasn’t born with his gifts, falling to earth from another planet; injected with super-soldier serum; or irradiated with gamma rays.
Bruce Wayne is intrinsically motivated to be Batman. Batman would never say, “My shift is up,” or, “I’ll only take on the additional responsibility for more pay”. We cannot fathom Commissioner Gordon, the police Commissioner who never doubts Batman’s motives, offering Batman a gift certificate at Christmas. Batman shuns credit. He’ll be what Gotham needs him to be.
Researchers have found that when people are given extrinsic rewards, such as money, for completing an interesting activity, like saving Gotham from a chemical weapon or anarchy, they are less interested in doing that same activity again than those who did not receive the reward. The research that produced this controversial finding, initially conducted in the 70’s, has since been replicated numerous times. Researchers have also found that since extrinsic awards are often used as a means for social control, they can leave people feeling subject to the reward and impede a sense of autonomy.
We all need money to live, even Bruce Wayne. He can be Batman because he can afford to be Batman. But it seems a shame that monetary gain, a reward that decreases our intrinsic motivation, is the primary way we’re recognized for our work.