'Rewards are the means of all government' proclaimed US President John Adams. A principle we have adopted in many areas of our lives, from children's gold stars and prizes to incentives at work, and religious tales of paradise to come. But evidence now suggests there are risks to this approach. Studies show rewards can damage wellbeing fostering dependence and undermining our own sense of control. And neuroscientists have shown those more prone to seeking reward have a 70% higher risk of addiction, with addictive behaviour now present in almost half of the U.S. population.  

Should we seek to wean ourselves off reward and instead learn to experience the present for its own sake? Should we adopt a Stoic framework where action and virtue are seen as their own ends? Or is the current culture of reward in personal and professional life not only hugely beneficial but a much more effective means of social intervention than the punishment regimes of the past?    

Best-selling psychologist Paul Bloom, world-leading behavioural economist Dan Ariely, and Stoic expert Nancy Sherman debate the risks of rewards.

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