Want to Perform Better? Watch Someone Else Get Praised

A bystander effect we can get behind.

Watching your peers get congratulated for a job well done could motivate you to improve your own performance, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.

Researchers split 300 undergraduate students into 15-person groups and returned their midterm exams. Professors openly praised the highest-scoring students in eight of the groups while in the remaining groups they handed back the tests without comment.

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On the next midterm, the students who almost made it into the top tier on the first exam, and watched their high-performing peers get kudos for their work, significantly improved their scores. Students whose tests were handed back without comment had no difference in their scores and interestingly, students who were praised didn’t improve their scores either.

As Science of Us explained in a piece about the study, praise might function as a “setting of standards,” motivating people to reach the level they think they should have performed at the first time around. If you’re underperforming just a tad, seeing firsthand the acknowledgement you’d get if you improved might be just the push you need to do better next time.

Read more on Science of Us.