A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper explores the short-term effects of incentives on student effort and performance, varying the size and type of the rewards as well as how they are presented. As part of the study, field experiments were conducted across multiple years in over 7,000 elementary and high schools. Findings were as follows:
- Incentives framed as losses (i.e., a reward that is given before an assessment begins that the student can keep if they meet the goal, or will have to give back if they don’t) have more robust effects than comparable incentives framed as gains (i.e., receiving a reward only after the goal is met).
- Non-financial incentives (e.g., a trophy) are considerably more cost-effective than financial incentives for younger students, but are not effective with older students.
All motivating power of the incentives vanishes when rewards are handed out with a delay rather than immediately. For this study, the delay was one month.
Source (Open Access): Levitt, S.D., List, J.A., Neckermann, S., & Sadoff, S. (2012). The behavioralist goes to school: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve educational performance (NBER Working Paper: 18165). Cambridge, UK: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from: https://www.nber.org/papers/w18165.pdf