From The Daily Mail:
Teacher's pets and star employees may be held up as role models to aspire to, but they could actually be bad for the performance of everyone else.
While we are taught to believe that matching high-performing peers is a positive thing - and may give us the kick we need to succeed - a new study suggests it could have the opposite effect.
US researchers explain that exposure to exceptional performance can breed 'exemplary discouragement', pushing us away from wanting to be successful.
Todd Rogers, associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Avi Feller, assistant professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, published their findings in Psychological Science.
'Exemplar discouragement is powerful: Real students who assessed exemplary peers' essays are substantially less likely to earn course credit than those who assessed average peers' essays,' the pair explained.
According to the paper, if we are exposed to something within our reach, such as an excellent paper written by someone, we are likely to try and copy their behaviours.
But, if all members of the group are seen high-performers, this can have a damaging effect and put us off.
As part of their studies, students have their work peer-graded by others on the course.
When they each submit an essay, they have to mark a random sample of other students' work.
However, when the researchers skewed the samples, so all of the randomly chosen essays were outstanding examples, they found that the student was far more likely to quit the course compared to those who had marked more typical essays, at a standard level for the class.
When they simulated the MOOC set up in a follow-up experiment, students said that they saw the high quality work as the norm and so lost interest, saying it was no longer important to them.
The findings could prove to be important in real-life classrooms, as peer marking becomes a larger part of education systems.
It could even be useful for managers to better motivate their employees, impacting on how we judge and compare those around us.
The authors continued: 'Being exposed to peers' excellent performance makes people feel less capable of performing at the level of those peers. This changed belief appears to decrease student performance.'
'Discouragement by peer excellence has theoretical implications for work on social judgement, social comparison, and reference bias and has practical implications for interventions that induce social comparisons.'
POSITIVE THINKING AND PERFORMANCE
Despite the links between positive thinking and performance, such as aspiring to be the teachers pet or employee of the month, a study last year found that people perform, on average, equally well in a task regardless of how positive or negative they feel about it.
During one experiment, participants were given false feedback before a task, suggesting they would do well or perform poorly - making them optimistic or pessimistic - based on how well they had fared during training exercises.
The results showed that there was little that separated the performance of the optimistic and pessimistic groups.
After completing a second task they were asked how optimistic they felt about it. The researchers concluded that people naturally placed an importance on optimism that the test results didn't warrant. This, they said, suggests that people prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success.