Incentivizing education: Seeing schoolwork as an investment, not a chore

Mesmin Destin, Daphna Oyserman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Most American children expect to attend college but because they do not necessarily spend much time on schoolwork, they may fail to reach their imagined " college-bound" future self. The proposed identity-based motivation model helps explain why this gap occurs: Imagined " college-bound" identities cue school-focused behavior if they are salient and feel relevant to current choice options, not otherwise. Two studies with predominantly low-income and African American middle school students support this prediction. Almost all of the students expect to attend college, but only half describe education-dependent (e.g., law, medicine) adult identities. Having education-dependent rather than education-independent adult identities (e.g., sports, entertainment) predicts better grades over time, controlling for prior grade point average (Study 1). To demonstrate causality, salience of education-dependent vs. education-independent adult identities was experimentally manipulated. Children who considered education-dependent adult identities (vs. education-independent ones) were eight times more likely to complete a take-home extra-credit assignment (Study 2).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-849
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Academic achievement
  • Future identity
  • Motivation
  • Possible selves
  • Race
  • Social cognition
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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