The Tom Sawyer Effect

Friday, November 10, 2023


Tom Sawyer is the main character in the 1876 literary classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. It is about a good-hearted but mischievous young boy growing up along the Mississippi River in 1840.

Tom Sawyer is a clever, imaginative young fellow. He has a lot of fun but regularly gets himself and his friends into trouble. He is probably most remembered for convincing his friends to paint his Aunt Polly’s fence by making the task, which for him was unpleasant and boring, seem desirable. He motivated his friends to paint the fence by promoting the unappealing task as fun and attractive. Thus, he avoided the work. 

The name for this phenomenon is called the Tom Sawyer effect, and it highlights the power of intrinsic motivation. We use it to describe situations where individuals are more motivated to engage in an activity when they perceive it as enjoyable or when they have a choice in doing it. 

Yes, Tom Sawyer was a very clever fellow. 

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