Monday, April 9, 2012
A neuroscience study suggests that for many, rankings have a negative impact on performance. In this study, subjects answer IQ-style questions. As they proceed, they learn how their performance ranks with others answering the same questions:
For Jane and all the other subjects, the "how do I rank?" feedback mattered. It caused stress and anxiety and depressed their performance. In the scanned subjects, we saw a significant effect in the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety, and emotional arousal, which was associated with a reduction of activity in areas involved in problem-solving. What happened after the initial round of feedback, however, was fascinating. One group of subjects regained their footing, while the performance of another group that included Jane continued to spiral downward—an average of 17 points on the IQ test, more than a standard deviation. The take-away message is that ranking feedback can affect performance on cognitive tasks, with negative consequences for particular groups.
Questions arise. How do grades and other rankings affect the performance of students? How do student evaluations of teachers affect teacher performance? How do U.S. News rankings affect the performance of students, professors, and law schools?
Here is the report from Education Week