Article | Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization | April 2014

Awards Unbundled: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment

by Nava Ashraf, Oriana Bandiera and Scott S. Lee


Organizations often use non-monetary awards to incentivize performance. Awards may affect behavior through several mechanisms: by conferring employer recognition, by enhancing social visibility, and by facilitating social comparison. In a nationwide health worker training program in Zambia, we design a field experiment to unbundle these mechanisms. We find that employer recognition and social visibility increase performance while social comparison reduces it, especially for low-ability trainees. These effects appear when treatments are announced and persist through training. The findings are consistent with a model of optimal expectations in which low-ability individuals exert low effort in order to avoid information about their relative ability.

Keywords: social comparison; awards; optimal expectactions; Motivation and Incentives; Status and Position; Zambia; Status and Position; Performance Expectations; Motivation and Incentives; Health Care and Treatment; Health Industry; Zambia;


Ashraf, Nava, Oriana Bandiera, and Scott S. Lee. "Awards Unbundled: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 100 (April 2014): 44–63.