Performance Effects of Setting a High Reference Point for Peer-Performance Comparison
53 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2018
Date Written: January 15, 2018
We conduct a field experiment, based on a registered report accepted by the Journal of Accounting Research, to test performance effects of setting a high reference point for peer-performance comparison. Relative to providing the median as a reference point for online students to compare themselves to, providing the top quartile: damps performance for those below the median; boosts performance for those between the median and top quartile; and, in the case of outcome but not process comparison, boosts performance for those above the top quartile. We do not find that either reference point yields a greater average performance effect. However, providing the more effective reference point in each partition of initial performance yields a 40% greater performance effect than providing either reference point uniformly. Students access the online courses intermittently over the span of a year. Our effects derive from small portions of our treatment groups — 5% in the case of process comparison and 26% in the case of outcome comparison — who accessed treatment and who were, on average, more active leading up to and during our intervention.
Keywords: relative performance information, reference points, performance, social comparison
JEL Classification: C93, D91, I21, M41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation