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Motivation, test scores and economic success

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  • Carmit Segal

Abstract

This paper argues that low-stakes test scores, available in surveys, may be partially determined by test-taking motivation, which is associated with personality traits but not with cognitive ability. Therefore, such test score distributions may not be informative regarding cognitive ability distributions. Moreover, correlations, found in survey data, between high test scores and economic success may be partially caused by favorable personality traits. To demonstrate these points, I use the coding speed test that was administered without incentives to National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY) participants. I suggest that due to its simplicity its scores may especially depend on individuals' test-taking motivation. I show that controlling for conventional measures of cognitive skills, the coding speed scores are correlated with future earnings of male NLSY participants. Moreover, the coding speed scores of highly motivated, though less educated, population (potential enlists to the armed forces) are higher than NLSY participants' scores. I then use controlled experiments to show that when no performance-based incentives are provided, participants' characteristics, but not their cognitive skills, affect effort invested in the coding speed test. Thus, participants with the same ability (measured by their scores on an incentivized test) have significantly different scores on tests without performance- based incentives.

Suggested Citation

  • Carmit Segal, 2006. "Motivation, test scores and economic success," Economics Working Papers 1124, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1124
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lex Borghans & Huub Meijers & Bas Ter Weel, 2008. "The Role Of Noncognitive Skills In Explaining Cognitive Test Scores," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 46(1), pages 2-12, January.
    2. Daniel J. Benjamin & Sebastian A. Brown & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2013. "Who Is ‘Behavioral’? Cognitive Ability And Anomalous Preferences," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(6), pages 1231-1255, December.
    3. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520.
    4. Angrist, Joshua & Lavy, Victor, 2004. "The Effect of High Stakes High School Achievement Awards: Evidence from a School-Centered Randomized Trial," IZA Discussion Papers 1146, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Schlotter, 2011. "Age at Preschool Entrance and Noncognitive Skills before School - An Instrumental Variable Approach," ifo Working Paper Series 112, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    2. Lex Borghans & Bas ter Weel & Bruce A. Weinberg, 2008. "Interpersonal Styles and Labor Market Outcomes," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    3. Golsteyn, B.H.H. & Grönqvist, H. & Lindahl, L., 2013. "Time preferences and lifetime outcomes," ROA Research Memorandum 019, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
    4. Björn Bartling & Ernst Fehr & Barbara Fischer & Fabian Kosse & Michel Maréchal & Friedhelm Pfeiffer & Daniel Schunk & Jürgen Schupp & C. Katharina Spieß & Gert G. Wagner, 2009. "Zeitpräferenzen von Kindern im Vorschulalter: eine experimentelle Untersuchung im Rahmen des Sozio-oekonomischen Panels (SOEP)," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 203, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    5. Borghans, Lex & Meijers, Huub & ter Weel, Bas, 2013. "The importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for measuring IQ," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 17-28.
    6. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman, 2009. "The Economics and Psychology of Inequality and Human DEvelopment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 320-364, 04-05.
    7. James Heckman & Tim Kautz, 2013. "Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition," Working Papers 2013-019, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    8. Joshua Goodman, 2014. "The Wages of Sinistrality: Handedness, Brain Structure, and Human Capital Accumulation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 193-212, Fall.
    9. Guillen, Pablo & Wu, Kevin, 2012. "Social Comparison, Aspirations and Priming: When Fiction is as Powerful as Fact," Working Papers 2012-02, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    10. Borghans, Lex & Golsteyn, Bart H. H. & Heckman, James & Humphries, John Eric, 2011. "Identification Problems in Personality Psychology," Working Paper Series 5/2011, Stockholm University, Swedish Institute for Social Research.
    11. Pischke, Jörn-Steffen & Schwandt, Hannes, 2012. "A cautionary note on using industry affiliation to predict income," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51508, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    12. Christoph T. Weiss, 2012. "Persistent Attitudes and Behaviors," "Marco Fanno" Working Papers 0143, Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche "Marco Fanno".
    13. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Uwe Sunde, 2010. "Are Risk Aversion and Impatience Related to Cognitive Ability?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 1238-1260, June.
    14. Heckman, James J. & Kautz, Tim, 2012. "Hard evidence on soft skills," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 451-464.
    15. Marco Castillo & Paul Ferraro & Jeff Jordan & Ragan Petrie, 2008. "The Today and Tomorrow of Kids," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2008-10, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    16. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2010. "Explaining the Gender Gap in Math Test Scores: The Role of Competition," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(2), pages 129-144, Spring.
    17. Grebitus, Carola & Lusk, Jayson L. & Nayga, Rodolfo M., 2013. "Explaining differences in real and hypothetical experimental auctions and choice experiments with personality," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 11-26.
    18. Malamud, Ofer & Wozniak, Abigail, 2008. "The Impact of College Graduation on Geographic Mobility: Identifying Education Using Multiple Components of Vietnam Draft Risk," IZA Discussion Papers 3432, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    19. Borghans, L. & Golsteyn, B.H.H., 2007. "Are courses chosen to reduce skill-deficiencies? an experimental approach," ROA Research Memorandum 001, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
    20. Will Dobbie & Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2009. "Are High Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Social Experiment in Harlem," NBER Working Papers 15473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. Borghans, Lex & Meijers, Huub & ter Weel, Bas, 2013. "The importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for measuring IQ," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 17-28.
    22. Amalia Miller, 2011. "The effects of motherhood timing on career path," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(3), pages 1071-1100, July.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Test Scores; Motivation; Cognitive Skills; Non-Cognitive Skills; Earnings;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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