Incentives in Education and Moral Behavior in Groups

Abstract: This thesis uses field experiments, lab experiments, and theory to study questions that are relevant to the fields of education and behavioral economics.The first paper, Threshold Incentives and Academic Performance, begins with the observation that students often face incentives to reach performance thresholds. To study how these incentives affect their performance, Erik Wengström and I conduct a field experiment in which we incentivize students with €300 to reach a certain GPA. We find that, when the incentives are in place, only students just below the threshold improve their performance. However, when we remove the incentives, incentivized students enroll in fewer courses and pass fewer courses. The reason is that treated students who fail to reach the threshold lose confidence in their academic ability. Our results suggest that the current threshold incentives that are in place in education might reduce the performance of students who fail to reach them.The second paper, Helping Behavior and Group Size, studies people's helping behavior when they are in groups with others. A large literature in psychology shows that people are less likely to help others when they are in a group than when they are alone, a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. This paper studies whether people are less likely to help in groups because they hope that others help instead. In an experiment where a person in need loses money over time until one bystander pays a cost to help her, I find evidence supporting this hypothesis.The third paper, The Group Bystander Effect, investigates whether groups of one person or several people are more likely to implement a morally desirable outcome (such as, for example, helping a person in need). I formulate and test a model in which a moral outcome is implemented as long as at least one agent takes a costly action. I show that 1) if most people are moral, the moral outcome is more likely to be implemented by one person alone, whereas 2) if most people are immoral, the moral outcome is more likely to be implemented by a group. I discuss that this simple rule may be applied to better design organizations and institutions.

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