The Effect of Time and Knowledge on Decision Making

Decision Making Time and Knowledge 3 The Effect of Time and Knowledge on Decision Making

Many moons ago, I wrote an article titled “The Effect of Time on Decision Making”. In it, I covered some fairly meaty topics that talked about Construal Level Theory and Decision Field Theory and how they explained the way we made decisions.

The Basic Theory

Very simply out, Construal Level Theory tried to explain how we prioritise a decision based on how close it is to us. If it is abstract, or a decent time in the future, then we give it less merit and less focus. If it is concrete, or very close in time to now, then we will do the opposite – give it stronger focus and concentrate more on making a decision. Read More ...

Gamification Element: Investment

Piggy bank 1493903513 Gamification Element Investment

I have just added a new element to the gamification periodic table, investment.

Whilst I have Loss Aversion and a few other things that may seem similar, I have felt for some time that there was still an ingredient missing. It turns out, it was investment (I think…).

Now, you may instantly think of investment as a financial affair, in fact, the icon I have chosen deliberately induces that though. However, investment comes in several flavours;

  1. Financial: Money, virtual currency, possessions
  2. Emotional: When you get into a good book or film, you are emotionally invested. The same is true of any relationship.
  3. Time: When you spend time doing something, you are investing in it. So time spent getting your stats as high as possible in-game, that’s a significant investment.
  4. Effort: Whether it is mental or physical, expending effort is an investment in an activity.

A great example of all of these being in play is higher education. Students have to spend money on tuition fees (or at least be aware they will be paying them back for some time). They have to invest emotionally, not just in the subject and the process of learning for higher education, but also in the relationships they form whilst in higher education. They have to invest a significant amount of their time, years in fact. Finally, there is a huge amount of mental effort required to succeed.

When someone invests anything into a task, they are more likely to assign an intrinsic value to it. As I have said repeatedly, rewards are only meaningful if they require some level of effort or investment to achieve.

Here is the latest version of the Periodic Table (Available as a poster from here)

Gamification, delayed gratification and rewards

Reward vs investment Gamification delayed gratification and rewards

There has always been this common thought that if you have to work harder for something or you have to wait for it, the reward will be all the greater in your mind. Now for the most part. that is absolutely true. The anticipation of some sort of reward 1 is a massive trigger for dopamine and can make the reward all the more… well, rewarding – which we like!

The Marshmallow Test

However, not everyone is able to wait for a reward. There was a fantastic experiment in the 70s now referred to as the Marshmallow Test 2. The set up was that children were sat in a room and a marshmallow was placed on the table in front of them. They were given an offer. Eat this one marshmallow now OR wait until I come back and you can have two marshmallows. It is worth watching the videos if you need a smile!

The really interesting part of this was what happened to the children over the years, you see they followed their progress for 40 years! What they found was that the children who could wait for the second marshmallow, who could delay the gratification, were more successful in just about every way over the years 3! Their mindset allowed them to take short term pain for long term gain.

Another interesting study that is very relevant here was done around 2012 and it looked at how experience, or as they called it “environmental reliability 4“, affected the marshmallow test. The set up was similar, but before the test began the children were split into two different groups. They were both offered certain things, like extra crayons for colouring in pictures. The difference was, one group got given the things they were promised, the other was not. When they then ran the marshmallow test on these groups, the group that had been getting things they were promised showed a much great ability to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow. Their expectations and trust were such that they felt confident that the researcher would return. The other group had no reason to trust the researcher, so ate the marshmallow straight away!

They proved that delayed gratification was a cognitive process. We assess based on experience whether it is worth waiting or not.

Applying this to Gamification

There are a few big takeaways from this that we can apply to gamification.

  • People will wait for rewards if they feel they are worth it.
  • People will wait for rewards if they trust that it will come.
  • Anticipation can lead to greater gratification from a reward.

But, we need to be able to apply this in a reliable way. The diagram below gives a quick outline of how you can be done.


If you make someone wait for a reward, make sure it is worth them having. That does not mean the reward has to be larger, rather the value they place on the reward is larger.  Take a relationship. Relationships take work, they take time. When you first meet someone it is rare that you are suddenly best friends. But take the time and work at it and the friendship can become incredibly rewarding.

Goals that are in the distance can be hard to focus on. I wrote a while ago about something called Construal Level Theory.

The basic idea is that events that are about to happen are perceived as concrete in out mind. It is easy to visualise them and work on them. Distant events are perceived as abstract, they are much harder for use to give urgency or importance to because they feel less real. Think about exams. Two months before an exam, revision seems less urgent – the exam is an abstract concept to us – it is not here so is not quite real. As we get closer to the exam, revision may start to get more important. The day of the exam, it is very real and you start to wish you had been revising for two months after all!

Along the way though we need signals that we are following the right path. Going back to the relationship, if we start to feel that the other person is not returning the friendship, that there are no signals that it is going well, we will begin to drift away and the friendship will fail.

So, whilst waiting for the big prize, people need to have smaller ones to nudge them along. These will have less value to them but will help to keep them on the right path.

In our gamified system, the small, regular nudges come in the form of things like points. They have less value to the user, but they show the user they have done something right. Slightly larger nudges would include more visible and potentially more valuable rewards (think badges that represent certain smaller achievements). These could me considered as short term goals (remember SMART?) Finally, after hard work and patience, the larger reward. These will be less common but should represent some real level of achievement or be attached to a larger value reward of some sort.

Along the way, there is nothing wrong with randomly giving a larger reward that has not been “earned” as a way to just have the system say “Thanks for sticking with it”. These will give the user a nice sense of feeling they are valued. Avoid making people work hard and wait just to get a low-value reward. They will not appreciate this at all!

Perceived Value

It is very important to appreciate that the perceived value of things can reduce over time. What someone will work really hard to achieve initially, they may not be willing to work as hard for a second or a third time. They will expect the value of the final reward to be greater each time, especially if they are expected to work harder. So when you think about your system, as the difficulty and skill requirements increase, so should the value of the long-term reward! We could consider Reward vs Investment. The investment could be time, effort, emotional etc.

A theoretical example


Take a look at your system and see where your rewards sit on the grid

Instant wins are not always the most rewarding. Learn how to use delayed gratification to increase the value of rewards in your system.

Big thanks to the Gamification Hub group on Facebook for the discussion around this. A must visit resource if you are interested in gamification!

Works Cited

Kuszewski, Andrea. “The Science Of Pleasure: Part III.” Science 2.0. N.p., 26 Aug. 2010. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. <>.
“Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. <>.
Clear, James. “40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed.”

40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed Read More ...

My 3 main focuses for rewards and feedback

RIM My 3 main focuses for rewards and feedback

One of the key things that I consider when looking at anything in gamification is how feedback is going to be handled. For me, feedback is anything that gives a user some understanding of progress and achievement. This can be something as simple as a message that says “You have completed the survey”, to a full virtual economy working with points, badges, levels, leaderboards, trading, prizes etc! They are all just there to keep the user informed.

I feel there are three important aspects that need to be considered when designing feedback and rewards for any system though. It should be – cue another mnemonic – RIM…..!

Relevant, In-Time and Meaningful


The feedback needs to be relevant to and in context with the activity. If you are clicking a like button – is it relevant to suddenly be given a certificate by post? Would it not be more relevant to have a little “thank you” or a point added to an experience system?


Does the feedback need to be instantaneous, or can it wait? For instance, in a game, you get several types of feedback. When you miss time your jump, you die. The feedback is immediate – it has to be! If you gain experience, you often get a little notification on the screen – however, if you are in the middle of a frantic battle, is that actually of use to you. A sudden light flashing up telling you you have levelled up, maybe just distracting enough to get you killed! It would surely be better to wait a moment until the fighting has died down a little and then give the feedback. That, or wait until the level has ended and then congratulate and give the feedback.

In gamification, this could be seen as using a monthly leaderboard rather than an hourly one. If people are not going to be checking hourly, why feedback hourly? Judge the best and most impactful time to give feedback and rewards.


This is the most important category for me. Many systems reward everything. Clicking, registering, logging in. Soon you have awards and badges for everything you have done. They become meaningless very fast as they took nothing to achieve! Use feedback and especially rewards to celebrate and record actual achievement. Then it will have some meaning to the user. If everyone can have the “I clicked like 10 times” sticker, it means nothing. However, the “I just scored 100% on my exam” sticker is harder to get. If you then make that reward transferable to real life – so maybe that sticker gets them priority somewhere else, for instance, it has true meaning to them.

Bonus round

The ever awesome Richard Wallace has suggested that personal/personalised should be a fourth key consideration. Taking a quote from his comment below (which I have included below I full, along with our twitter conversation).

personalization is more based on social (personal, peer or inspirational) relationships and/or personal preferences (information, trends, interests etc).

I agree this could really help any reward or feedback. As such and after much thought and conversation, I leave this here as a bonus for you. For me, this is all part of meaning, but I am definitely not always right, so here is the full comment and subsequent conversation. Thanks Rich.


Andrzej, I agree with the feedback you’ve suggested but I’d like to suggest one more.
Personalised – I think this differs from the above as I would define it in relation to things that relate the individual (or their role) either socially or preferentially. For example: That fellow team members (or friends) are participating the same activity, show their progress or actions etc in comparison with a desire an action to simulate similar behaviors.
I believe this differs from relevance as you’ve defined that as context with the activity, whereas I think personalization is more based on social (personal, peer or inspirational) relationships and/or personal preferences (information, trends, interests etc).
(PRIM perhaps?) Read More ...

The Effect of Time on Decision Making

ID 100127587 The Effect of Time on Decision Making

I am fascinated with decision making and why people make certain decisions. There are loads of great papers out there, some of which I actually understand!

What has really caught my attention is the effect of time constraints on decision making.

Time Constraints in Games

We see this a lot in games, sometimes obvious other times, not so obvious. It is also used to varying degrees. Read More ...