This Week in Behavioral #4

After a short hiatus, This Week in Behavioral is back! This week Frank explores how paying people to do good things can work and teachers teaching other teachers to teach.

Doing Good and Doing Well

Should we pay people to do good deeds, like donate blood?

Since Richard Titmuss' work in the early seventies, there's been a lot of hesitation to do so. The thinking is simple — If I pay you, you're thinking "I'm doing this for money" instead of "I'm doing this because I'm a good person, I like doing good." And if the latter motivation is stronger, then paying can actually decrease the amount of good we all do. Economists often call this the "crowding out" hypothesis — paying you crowds out your intrinsic motivation.

Nicola Lacetera recently wrote a great summary of recent research on the topic. Across a series of projects, they find that paying people can indeed get them to do more good. Further, even if there is something to the crowding out hypothesis, it may be overstated. Sometimes when two researchers find different results, you can chalk up differences to changes in context — maybe crowding out is stronger here than it is over there.

But Nico and his co-authors actually ran experiments paying people to _donate blood. _In the same context as Titmuss and other pioneers in the field, they find no evidence of crowding out intrinsic motivation.

So it turns out money and a good deed (like helping a friend) can come together.

Interestingly though, they do find a different kind of crowding out effect. If I pay people to donate blood at the clinic on Main Street, in March, I crowd out people donating to the Broadway location, as well as people donating in April.

Nico also discusses evidence that doing good, like donating blood, might crowd out other good deeds you might have done otherwise. If I pay you to donate blood, you might donate less to charity, or skip volunteering that week.

Teachers teaching teachers, and a peck of pickled peppers

Teaching is hard. And very little is known about what makes for a good teacher, other than experience. So is there any hope we can we train teachers to be good, or is it just one of those things that either you're born with it, or it'll just take a while to pick up? A recently released field experiment suggests that teaching can be taught.

The idea is beautifully simple: They pair up good teachers with, um… less good teachers and tell them to work on the low-performing teacher's weaknesses. They basically set up a low-key apprenticeship program.

One year later, the low-performing teachers' students had substantially higher standardized test scores. Student performance on these tests are notoriously difficult to improve. That they could do this with such a low cost, and easily scalable, policy is really exciting.

Turns out the simplest answers are sometimes the best ones.

Frank - Luke Coffman

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