Peers, Pressure, and Performance at the National Spelling Bee

Posted: 23 Jul 2013

Date Written: 2013


This paper investigates how individuals’ performances of a cognitive task in a high-pressure competition are affected by their peers’ performances. To do so, I use novel data from the National Spelling Bee, in which students attempt to spell words correctly in a tournament setting. Across OLS and instrumental variables approaches, I find that when the immediate predecessor is correct, a speller has a 13 to 64 percent greater probability of making a mistake, relative to the predecessor being incorrect. There is no evidence that the effect differs by gender and marginal evidence that it differs by experience.

Keywords: competition, pressure, peer effects, spillovers, education, gender differences

Suggested Citation

Smith, Jonathan, Peers, Pressure, and Performance at the National Spelling Bee (2013). Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 48, No. 2, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Smith (Contact Author)

Georgia State University ( email )

United States

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