A metaphor for any paired motivational tools: Threat and incentive, risk and reward, bad and good, excruciating pain and sex.

The "stick" is the bad side--I will beat you with it if you do not comply. The "carrot" is the good side--I will feed it to you if you do comply. Let's avoid confusion right now and allow me to point out that "Stick and Carrot" has nothing to do with dangling a carrot in front of a donkey so he perpetually chases it. That's the proper use of the carrot--the perpetual incentive--but it completely ruins the yin and yang of the situation, and confuses the daylights out of people about what the stick is really for. If it were that cliche image from cartoons, it would be called "Carrot and Stick and String."

To be effective, the carrot needs to be a tangible reward, but the stick needs to be a tangible threat. Various theories on behavioral science talk about to what extent one should use a stick or a carrot, but YMMV: experiment a little bit.

It is important to note that the stick doesn't have to be a physical punishment, and the carrot doesn't have to be food. If your subject enjoys watching The Simpsons, the carrot could be permitting him to watch. If your subject dislikes a certain song, the stick could be playing that song over and over and over again. And if your subject is allergic to carrots, or is into S&M, it's entirely possible that your stick could be a carrot and your carrot a stick.

Stick and carrot, or as I know it, carrot and stick is a notional method of driving a donkey forward, mostly used in jokes and cartoons.

It is based on the donkey's supposed desire to eat the nice juicy carrot. Get a stick, tie a string to the end of it, and dangle a carrot from the string. Sit on the donkeys back and hold the stick up so that the carrot dangles in front of the donkey's eyes. The donkey will supposedly walk forward, like Tantalus, perpetually trying to catch up with the carrot. I have no idea if this really works, but it looks funny anyway.

Another more detailed version has the carrot dangled in front of the donkey, and the rider beating the back of the donkey with another stick, giving the dumb beast something to move away from as well as something to move towards.

By extension, carrot and stick refers metaphorically to incentives, the implication being that both positive reinforcment and negative reinforcement are present - not only will success be rewarded by being given a metaphorical carrot to eat, but failure will also be punished by a metaphorical blow from the stick.

In this metaphor it would seem that the carrot is no longer attached to the stick, nor is it perpetually out of reach. Then again, getting one pay check doesn't stop you wanting the next one, and sufficient funds may still be perpetually just out of reach.

This metaphor is often used in phrases like "x is the carrot, and y is the stick", meaning that x and y are the respective positive and negative incentives of the situation, or my life has no carrot, meaning that negative reinforcement is all that you experience.

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