Who doesn’t like awards? When Alexander first went to school becoming Cool Kid of the Week was pretty much the major priority. After having earned the award a few times, resentment set in when Alex realised that the award seemed pretty randomly passed around and that in fact if you were naughty, that seemed to be a pretty good strategy for Cooldom, as increasingly frustrated teachers tried with increasingly fractious kids to see if a bit of Cooldom would do the trick. Meanwhile one of the early pioneers of behavioural economics, Bruno Frey is trying to quantify how valuable awards are. And this picture of the performance of call centre workers before and after either receiving or not receiving an award tells a thousand words. In the words of the article (pdf)
Result 1. Awards increase the performance of recipients as compared to nonrecipients subsequent to winning.
Result 2. Receiving an award improves the performance of winners, whereas the performance of nonrecipients remains unaected.
But . . . the plot thickens. It turns out that the teachers’ strategy looks pretty on the money.
Another explanation for the observed increase in performance may be the increased visibility of the award winner in the month following the award. Recipients may feel a need to live up to the honor of having received an award for their voluntary work behaviors, and this may aect their core performances. This eect should be stronger for award winners whose core performance was below average prior to the award. The data allow us to test this hypothesis by separating the winners into two groups: those individuals who performed below average and those who performed above average.
Looking at how much performance increases between the month of the award and one month later, we nd that, on average, the rating of low performers increases by 0.58, whereas the performance of high performers decreases by 0.17. The one-sample t-test indicates that both coecients are highly signicantly dierent from zero. This differential impact of winning an award supports the notion that the increase in performance is caused by social pressure or the winners wanting to live up to the award with respect to core performance.