NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Multitasking, Learning, and Incentives: A Cautionary Tale

Roland G. Fryer, Jr, Richard T. Holden

NBER Working Paper No. 17752
Issued in January 2012
NBER Program(s):   ED   LS

We develop a multi-period, multi-task principal-agent model in which neither the principal nor the agent knows the mapping from actions to outputs. The agent can learn about the production function over time by exerting effort and observing output. The model has a stark prediction: incentives may have a negative impact on agent effort if, by exerting effort, they learn their ability is lower than their prior beliefs. To provide evidence on the model’s predictions, we conduct a field experiment in fifty Houston public schools, where students, parents, and teachers were rewarded with financial incentives. The experimental data is consistent with the model’s most distinguishing predictions, though other explanations are possible.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

A data appendix is available at http://www.nber.org/data-appendix/w17752

This paper was revised on May 10, 2013

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17752

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Fryer w15898 Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials
Fryer w17494 Injecting Successful Charter School Strategies into Traditional Public Schools: A Field Experiment in Houston
Dobbie and Fryer w17632 Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City
Fryer, Levitt, List, and Sadoff w18237 Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment
Fryer w16850 Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us