The behavioralist goes to school: leveraging behavioral economics to improve educational performance

Steven D Levitt, John A. List, Susanne Neckermann, Sally Sadoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


We explore the power of behavioral economics to influence the level of effort exerted by students in a low stakes testing environment. We find a substantial impact on test scores from incentives when the rewards are delivered immediately. There is suggestive evidence that rewards framed as losses outperform those framed as gains. Nonfinancial incentives can be considerably more cost-effective than financial incentives for younger students, but are less effective with older students. All motivating power of incentives vanishes when rewards are handed out with a delay. Our results suggest that the current set of incentives may lead to underinvestment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-219
Number of pages37
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Economic Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes

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