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Breaking monotony with meaning: Motivation in crowdsourcing markets


  • Chandler, Dana
  • Kapelner, Adam


We conduct the first natural field experiment to explore the relationship between the “meaningfulness” of a task and worker effort. We employed about 2500 workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online labor market, to label medical images. Although given an identical task, we experimentally manipulated how the task was framed. Subjects in the meaningful treatment were told that they were labeling tumor cells in order to assist medical researchers, subjects in the zero-context condition (the control group) were not told the purpose of the task, and, in stark contrast, subjects in the shredded treatment were not given context and were additionally told that their work would be discarded. We found that when a task was framed more meaningfully, workers were more likely to participate. We also found that the meaningful treatment increased the quantity of output (with an insignificant change in quality) while the shredded treatment decreased the quality of output (with no change in quantity). We believe these results will generalize to other short-term labor markets. Our study also discusses MTurk as an exciting platform for running natural field experiments in economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Chandler, Dana & Kapelner, Adam, 2013. "Breaking monotony with meaning: Motivation in crowdsourcing markets," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 123-133.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:90:y:2013:i:c:p:123-133
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2013.03.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Heinz, Matthias & Jeworrek, Sabrina & Mertins, Vanessa & Schumacher, Heiner & Sutter, Matthias, 2017. "Measuring Indirect Effects of Unfair Employer Behavior on Worker Productivity - A Field Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 12429, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Gosnell, Greer & Metcalfe, Robert & List, John A, 2016. "A new approach to an age-old problem: solving externalities by incenting workers directly," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 84331, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. John J. Horton & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 2016. "The Causes of Peer Effects in Production: Evidence from a Series of Field Experiments," NBER Working Papers 22386, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Maselli,Ilaria & Fabo, Brian, 2015. "Digital workers by design? An example from the on-demand economy," CEPS Papers 11030, Centre for European Policy Studies.
    5. repec:bla:ecinqu:v:55:y:2017:i:1:p:237-247 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Matthias Heinz & Sabrina Jeworrek & Vanessa Mertins & Heiner Schumacher & Matthias Sutter, 2017. "Measuring Indirect Effects of Unfair Employer Behavior on Worker Productivity - A Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 6760, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Cristiano Codagnone & Federico Biagi & Fabienne Abadie, 2016. "The Passions and the Interests: Unpacking the ‘Sharing Economy’," JRC Working Papers JRC101279, Joint Research Centre (Seville site).
    8. Schmidt, Gordon B. & Jettinghoff, William M., 2016. "Using Amazon Mechanical Turk and other compensated crowdsourcing sites," Business Horizons, Elsevier, vol. 59(4), pages 391-400.
    9. Kosfeld, Michael & Neckermann, Susanne & Yang, Xiaolan, 2014. "Knowing that you matter, matters! The interplay of meaning, monetary incentives, and worker recognition," ZEW Discussion Papers 14-097, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    10. Michael Kosfeld & Susanne Neckermann & Xiaolan Yang, 2017. "The Effects Of Financial And Recognition Incentives Across Work Contexts: The Role Of Meaning," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 55(1), pages 237-247, January.
    11. Adam Kapelner & Abba Krieger, 2014. "Matching on-the-fly: Sequential allocation with higher power and efficiency," Biometrics, The International Biometric Society, vol. 70(2), pages 378-388, June.
    12. Jeworrek, Sabrina & Mertins, Vanessa & Vlassopoulos, Michael, 2018. ""The good news about bad news": Feedback about past organisational failure and its impact on worker productivity," IWH Discussion Papers 1/2018, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).


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