Do we reward the best people or the most visible people?:

Sadly, it’s the more visible people:

In his widely reprinted paper “On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B,” Kerr argued that vividness was one of the major reasons for distorted rewards. Using both archival and survey data, the present paper directly tests Kerr’s proposal by investigating whether, how, and why highly visible behaviors are over-rewarded and less visible, but similarly (or more) important behaviors are under-rewarded. The National Basketball Association (NBA) was chosen as the domain of this study because scoring is particularly vivid, even though both non-scoring and scoring performances are critical for winning games. Findings from four studies demonstrated that the scoring performance of NBA players was weighed more heavily than their non-scoring performance. Scorers were rewarded with higher salaries and received more support in the NBA All-Star balloting than defenders, even though they might not necessarily make more contribution than their teammates. This pattern of findings suggests that the vividness effect may lead to pronounced differences in people’s judgments, especially when they face abundant real-world information with similar validity.

Source: “Money and fame: vividness effects in the National Basketball Association” from Journal of Behavioral Decision Making by Long Wang

Is this an issue of clarity? Maybe we lack accurate information? Nope. Other studies show prominence breeds prominence because we want common conversational ground with those around us:

Why do well-known ideas, practices, and people maintain their cultural prominence in the presence of equally good or better alternatives? This article suggests that a social-psychological process whereby people seek to establish common ground with their conversation partners causes familiar elements of culture to increase in prominence, independently of performance or quality. Two studies tested this hypothesis in the context of professional baseball, showing that common ground predicted the cultural prominence of baseball players better than their performance, even though clear performance metrics are available in this domain. Regardless of performance, familiar players, who represented common ground, were discussed more often than lesser-known players, both in a dyadic experiment (Study 1) and in natural discussions on the Internet (Study 2). Moreover, these conversations mediated the positive link between familiarity and a more institutionalized measure of prominence: All-Star votes (Study 2). Implications for research on the psychological foundations of culture are discussed.

Source: “Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture” from Psychological Science

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