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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-385
Number of pages9
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Conscientiousness
  • Effort
  • Impedance cardiography
  • Incentives
  • Motivation
  • Pre-ejection period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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