By: The Economist print edition
Monday, July 13, 2009
WHAT relationship there is between the number of participants in a competition and the motivation of the competitors has long eluded researchers. Does the presence of a lot of rivals stimulate action or lead someone to give up hope? It is more than an academic question. Or, rather, it is a very academic question indeed, for it may affect the way that examinations are conducted if they are to be a fair test for all.
To investigate the matter two behavioural researchers, Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan and Avishalom Tor at the University of Haifa in Israel, looked at the results of the SAT university entrance examination in America in 2005. This test generates a score supposedly based on the test-taker’s verbal and analytical prowess.
The two researchers used data on the number of test-takers in each state of the union and the number of test-taking venues in that state to calculate the average number of test-takers per venue in the state in question. They found that test scores fell as the number of people in the examination hall increased. And they discovered that this pattern was also true for the Cognitive Reflection Test, another analytical exam.
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