Motivation and Incentives in Education: Evidence from a Summer Reading Experiment (WP-15-24)


Jonathan Guryan, James S. Kim, and Kyung Park

For whom and under what conditions do incentives work in education? In the context of a summer reading program called Project READS, the researchers test whether responsiveness to incentives is positively or negatively related to the student’s baseline level of motivation to read. Elementary school students were mailed books weekly during the summer, mailed books and also offered an incentive to read, or assigned to a control group. They find that students who were more motivated to read at baseline were more responsive to incentives, suggesting that incentives may not effectively target the students whose behavior they are intended to change.

Jonathan Guryan, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

James S. Kim, Associate Professor of Education, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Kyung Park, Assistant Professor of Economics, Wellesley College

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