Incentive-Enhancing Preferences in Higher Education: Motivation, Personality, and Learning

Posted: 27 Jun 2018 Last revised: 4 Dec 2018

See all articles by Thad Jackson

Thad Jackson

University of Minnesota Crookston

Ben Woodruff

Eastern Kentucky University

Date Written: June 18, 2018


I use a randomized, controlled trial to test the efficacy of a goal-setting exercise to affect undergraduate student outcomes as mediated by their personal motivation — extrinsic versus intrinsic — and the mediating role (if any) played by personality traits and other characteristics. Motivation — extrinsic versus intrinsic — has been linked to differing responses with respect to policy changes that alter individual incentives. In addition, personality traits have been demonstrated to be reliable predictors of success (by many measures) across a wide variety of domains, including higher education. Researchers have found a wide variety of academic and non-academic measures to be reliable predictors of success in higher education, and that simple a simple goal-setting exercise contributes to improved student-level outcomes as measured by GPA. A large sample of first year students at a regional, state university are surveyed to collect individual measures that have been demonstrated to correlate with student success or failure. (To my knowledge, no other study has yet to collect and analyze data regarding both types of motivation — extrinsic versus intrinsic — and personality traits.) These students are randomly assigned to either a treatment group or control groups, and the treatment group is assigned a short series of goal setting exercises that have been shown to improve student outcomes in previous research. Economics educators understanding of the role that incentives play in undergraduate education might be improved if more is understood about the mediating effects of students’ motivation and personality traits.

Keywords: Economic Education and Teaching of Economics, Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation, Personality, Early Warning System, Student Retention

JEL Classification: I2, A2

Suggested Citation

Jackson, John and Woodruff, Benjamin, Incentive-Enhancing Preferences in Higher Education: Motivation, Personality, and Learning (June 18, 2018). Available at SSRN:

John Jackson (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Crookston ( email )

307 Selvig Hall
2900 University Avenue
Crookston,, MN 56716
United States
2182818341 (Phone)

Benjamin Woodruff

Eastern Kentucky University ( email )

521 Lancaster Ave
Richmond, KY 40475
United States

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