Students' hard work rubs off on classmates' grades

Maastricht study finds less hard-working students benefit when taught with more persistent peers

May 1, 2018
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Booster effect: study groups that place less diligent students with more hard-working peers raise the average grades of the group

Less hard-working students who are placed in study groups with more diligent and less “risk-taking” peers get better grades without doing any extra work, according to a study.

The researchers’ findings suggest that university students’ level of achievement can be influenced by the personalities of their fellow students.

In research presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference, the authors analysed personality data from 2,375 first-years at Maastricht University. Students were asked questions designed to assess them on their persistence, self-confidence, anxiety and attitude to risk.

The researchers then placed the less diligent students into work groups of about 14 people, with students who demonstrated more determination in the self-assessments.

They found that while the latter’s grades were not affected, the previously less diligent students got better marks on their course.

“Students who are exposed to more persistent peers and fewer risk taking peers achieve higher university grades,” the research concludes.

The more diligent students were not detrimentally affected by being placed in work groups with less persistent peers, according to the results.

The paper says: “Interestingly, as we do not find evidence that highly persistent peers are harmed by working with less persistent peers, this finding suggests that average achievement would increase if groups are formed with a mix of students with low and high persistence.”

The study also found that students with only higher average grades at university did not have a beneficial effect on others in the way that harder-working and more risk-averse students did.

Ulf Zölitz, one of the report’s co-authors, assistant professor of economics at the University of Zurich and its Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, said: “The most interesting thing is that the students who did not work as hard got better grades without even having to do any extra studying.”

He added: “The students who are more persistent think it is more important to prepare for class, and the other students who have not prepared can benefit from those students without actually doing that preparation.”

Dr Zölitz and his co-authors – Bart Golsteyn and Arjan Non, both of Maastricht – analysed data on self-reported study hours to determine levels of diligence for students.

The paper concludes of its investigation of “whether peer personality affects student achievement in university” that it finds “evidence that peers’ personality has a causal impact on student grades”.

The results have “important implications for the design of interventions and education policies that aim to improve socio-emotional skills”, the authors say.

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