Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 323–335 | Cite as

Risky prospects and risk aversion tendencies: does competition in the classroom depend on grading practices and knowledge of peer-status?

  • Tyler J. Burleigh
  • Daniel V. Meegan


When students are faced with the decision of whether to assist a peer, they should be sensitive to the potential risks associated with doing so. Two factors associated with risky helping behaviour in the classroom are: (1) the grading practices that are used, and (2) knowledge of a peer’s relative status. Normative (“curved”) grading creates a situation in which peer-interactions are potentially competitive, but it is only those interactions with peers of a similar status that carry the potential for assistance to be costly to oneself. In two studies, we created hypothetical scenarios in which the grading practices (normative or absolute) and peer-status proximity (proximate, distant, or unknown) were manipulated, and asked participants to report their willingness to cooperate with a peer by sharing their notes from an important lecture. We found that when normative grading was used, individuals were less willing to assist a peer when they knew that the peer’s status was proximate to their own. There was also less cooperation when peer status was unknown, under normative grading, which is consistent with a risk-aversion tendency.


Status Uncertainty Risk aversion Heuristics and biases Cooperation Competition 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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