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I've been thinking about what is the difference between a reward and a bribe. In particular, I was thinking about this when I said I'd give my 2 year old son a lollipop if he didn't cry during Sunday School. Is that a bribe or a legitimate reward? has the following definitions:

  1. Something given or received in recompense for worthy behavior or in retribution for evil acts.
  2. Money offered or given for some special service, such as the return of a lost article or the capture of a criminal.
  3. A satisfying return or result; profit.
  4. Psychology. The return for performance of a desired behavior; positive reinforcement.

  1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct.
  2. Something serving to influence or persuade.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary has this definition for a bribe:
  - To pervert the judgment or corrupt the action of a person in a position of trust, by some gift or promise.

But, by giving a lollipop, am I perverting judgement or corrupting my son?

What I've come down to is this:
A reward is something given in exchange for positive behavior.
A bribe is something given in exchange for negative behavior or normally expected behavior.

For example, we go into a nice restaurant and then approach the hostess. There are several tables open and we expect to be seated right away. But, the hostess makes us wait. Another couple walks in, slips her a $10 bill and gets seated right away. That was bribery since it's just expected to be seated when there are tables open.

In the case of my son, it's not normally expected behavior right now for him not to cry since he's still getting used to Sunday School. So, right now it's a reward. But, when he gets used to the idea of Sunday School, he won't get anymore lollipops. And if he insists on lollipops, even when he's fully capable of not crying, then it'll turn into bribery.

Posted: 2003-05-05 21:50:03

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