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Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence From Field Experiments

Author

Listed:
  • Damon Clark

    (UC Irvine and NBER)

  • David Gill

    (Purdue University)

  • Victoria Prowse

    (Purdue University)

  • Mark Rush

    (University of Florida)

Abstract

Will college students who set goals work harder and perform better? We report two field experiments that involved four thousand college students. One experiment asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). Task-based goals had robust positive effects on the level of task completion and marginally significant positive effects on course performance. Performance-based goals had positive but small and statistically insignificant effects on course performance. A theoretical framework that builds on present bias and loss aversion helps to interpret our results.

Suggested Citation

  • Damon Clark & David Gill & Victoria Prowse & Mark Rush, 2020. "Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence From Field Experiments," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 102(4), pages 648-663, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:restat:v:102:y:2020:i:4:p:648-663
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    8. Koch, Alexander K. & Nafziger, Julia, 2020. "Motivational goal bracketing: An experiment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 185(C).
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    14. Philip Oreopoulos & Richard W. Patterson & Uros Petronijevic & Nolan G. Pope, 2018. "When Studying and Nudging Don’t Go as Planned: Unsuccessful Attempts to Help Traditional and Online College Students," NBER Working Papers 25036, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Herranz-Zarzoso, Noemí & Sabater-Grande, Gerardo, 2018. "Monetary incentives and self-chosen goals in academic performance: An experimental study," International Review of Economics Education, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 34-44.
    16. Fulya Ersoy, 2021. "Returns to effort: experimental evidence from an online language platform," Natural Field Experiments 00756, The Field Experiments Website.
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    18. Fulya Ersoy, 2021. "Returns to effort: experimental evidence from an online language platform," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1047-1073, September.
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    23. Max van Lent & Michiel Souverijn, 2017. "Goal Setting and Raising the Bar: A Field Experiment," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-001/VII, Tinbergen Institute.
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    25. James Fan & Joaquín Gómez‐Miñambres & Samuel Smithers, 2020. "Make it too difficult, and I'll give up; let me succeed, and I'll excel: The interaction between assigned and personal goals," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 41(6), pages 964-975, September.

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    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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