Framing manipulations in contests : a natural field experiment

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Journal article

Source Publication

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization

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Elsevier BV


Framing effect, Field experiment, Worker productivity, Contests, Loss aversion, Incentive contracts


Exploiting findings that losses loom larger than gains, studies have shown that framing manipulations can increase productivity of workers. Using a natural field experiment that exogenously manipulates wage bonuses within contests in a Chinese high-tech manufacturing facility, we show that how loss aversion affects worker behavior critically depends on the incentive scheme as well as the framing manipulation. Four sets of two identical teams competed against each other to win a bonus given to the team, within a set, with the higher average hourly productivity over the week. In each set, the bonus was framed as a reward or gain for one team and as a punishment or loss for the other. Average weekly productivity was slightly higher under the loss treatment, but this increase was statistically insignificant. However, the team under the loss treatment was at least 35% more likely to win the contest. As teams’ payoffs are based on relative productivity under a contest, framing effect is much stronger in terms of relative productivity. Finally, workers seemingly responded to the bonus by increasing the quality of production as well as quantity—defect rate fell as productivity increased.



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Funding Information

Funding for this research was provided by: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (489160) {489160}

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Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Recommended Citation

Hong, F., Hossain, T., & List, J. A. (2015). Framing manipulations in contests: A natural field experiment. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 118, 372-382. doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.02.014