Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments
Will college students who set goals for themselves work harder and perform better? In theory, setting goals can help time-inconsistent students to mitigate their self-control problem. In practice, there is little credible evidence on the causal effects of goal setting for college students. We report the results of two field experiments that involved almost four thousand college students in total. One experiment asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). We find that performance-based goals had no discernible impact on course performance. In contrast, task-based goals had large and robust positive effects on the level of task completion, and task-based goals also increased course performance. Further empirical analysis indicates that the increase in task completion induced by setting task-based goals caused the increase in course performance. We also find that taskbased goals were more effective for male students. We develop new theory that reinforces our empirical results by suggesting two key reasons why task-based goals might be more effective than performance-based goals: overconfidence and uncertainty about performance. Since task-based goal setting is low-cost, scaleable and logistically simple, we conclude that our findings have important implications for educational practice and future research.
The Meaning of Property in Things (link to the paper)
What is property, and why does our species happen to have it? In this paper I explore how Homo sapiens acquires and cognizes the custom of property and why this might be relevant to understanding how property works in the 21st century. I first support the claim that property is a universal and uniquely human custom and then I argue that humans locate the meaning of property within a thing. Using philosophy of property law and actual property disputes, I also explain (a) how my theory generates a testable hypothesis, (b) how the bundle of sticks metaphor inverts how we cognize property, and (c) how social scientists can no longer think about property as an external constraint imposed upon an individual.
Bounded rationality and finite processing capacity make it understandable that homo sapiens focuses attention first on the here and now. But many individual and social problems require increased attention to future costs and benefits, with climate change as the most urgent challenge for decisions that fully and justly weigh the immediate and certain costs and benefits of business-as-usual or greenhouse gas mitigation efforts against their delayed, risky, and often disputed costs and benefits. Psychological theories from prospect theory to hyperbolic discounting and query theory predict that future costs of business-as-usual and future benefits of GHG mitigation efforts will get short thrift in the way such decisions are typically made.
I present data for three interventions that focus greater attention on future consequences and thus provide entry points for choices that better balance short-term and long-term goals and objectives. (1) In tradeoffs between immediate and delayed consumption, discounting of future consequences is reduced when choice options with future benefits are made the default and when decision makers are otherwise prompted to consider arguments for such choices first (Weber et al., 2007). (2) Individual and country-level data show that citizens may use perceptions of their country’s age to predict its future continuation, with longer pasts predicting longer futures, and longer futures justifying greater investments into sustainability. Thus framing a country as a long-standing entity can promote pro-environmental behavior (Hershfield, Bang, & Weber, 2014). (3) Finally, individuals’ motivation to leave a positive legacy can be leveraged to increase engagement with climate change and other environmental problems (Zaval, Markowitz & Weber, 2015).