IRF Releases First-Ever Biometric Study on Cash vs. Non-cash Rewards


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The recent IRF study biometric study reveals the power of non-cash rewards in motivating employees.

An Incentive Research Foundation project guided by Steve Genco, author of Neuroscience for Dummies, used biometric and facial coding techniques including eye tracking, galvanic skin response and signs of aversion and attraction to measure unconscious responses to cash vs. non-cash awards.

As a next step, the 42 participants in Conscious and Unconscious Reward Preference & Choice: A Biometric Experiment were then given time to examine and consider their non-cash and cash reward options. Almost two-thirds of ultimately chose a non-cash reward after engaging in cognitive thinking on the conscious level.

Behavior science has proven that what people say and what they feel are often very different things, yet this survey found that when it came to non-cash vs. cash rewards, this wan’t the case. Research by Daniel Kahneman supports the notion that people often make choices that they think they should make, as opposed to what they prefer—they don’t always make choices consistent with what motivates them the most.

This groundbreaking project was the first of its kind in the incentive arena. “It’s a fascinating study,” said Melissa Van Dyke, IRF President. “When rewards were made salient and multiple non-cash reward options were made available, 62 percent of the subjects chose a non-cash reward over an equivalent cash reward.”

Download the complete study here.

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Barbara Scofidio is editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In 25 years of covering the industry, her articles have spanned topics ranging from social media to strategic meetings management. She is currently the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee and was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of Site, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. A familiar face at industry events, Barbara often leads panel discussions or speaks on topics close to her heart, such as green meetings or how the industry can help combat human trafficking. She is also on the board of ECPAT USA, the human trafficking organization. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.


  1. Our industry needs more studies like this to confirm what actually works best as a motivator. It would be good to also include survey responses to what cash is generally used for as well. I can have a strong response to cash if at that moment I’m late on bills or have an unexpected expense. But this emphasizes that we are confusing income and compensation with a reward. Generally, incentives and rewards are intended to be a lasting reminder of thanks and connect a sense of appreciation between the employee and employer.

    On a side note, typos and incorrect grammar in articles interrupts the flow of reading and doesn’t reflect well on the organization. There are errors in the first paragraph following the lead in. There are missing words, awkward wording and there is also a typo in the second paragraph. Simple fixes any good editor will catch in the future.