May 4, 2013

Spelling Bee

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.

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