Success Spills Over: How Awards Affect Winners’ and Peers’ Performance in Brazil [Job Market Paper]

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Does the recognition of someone's success spill over to others? Awards that confer public recognition for outstanding performance can impact ex-post behavior by changing beliefs, norms or interests. I investigate whether the public recognition of students' accomplishments impacts their own and their peers' subsequent academic performance. I exploit Brazil's Math Olympiad "Honorable Mention" award which recognizes the top 4% of participants in a national competition involving 18 million students annually. I take advantage of the fact that no information is disclosed on the performance of those who do not win an award to recover the informational impact of someone's recognition. Specifically, I use a regression discontinuity design comparing classrooms with narrow winners and losers of the award. I find that the award improves the future educational outcomes of both the winner and her classmates. The spillovers on classmates are economically meaningful - one-fourth of the magnitude of the effects on the winner themselves - and have long-run consequences: the enrollment in selective colleges of classmates of a narrow award winner increases by 10%. Proximity to the winner, both physical and in terms of ability, appears to be a key mediating channel: spillovers are largest for classmates in the top quartile of the test score distribution, and depend upon the continued presence of the winner in the classroom. The results show that ex-post motivation and effort can be enhanced by recognizing the success of a high-performing student.

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Last updated on 12/12/2016