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"Being extra nice to your own group will often automatically disadvantage others"


Are students being discriminated when exams are not graded anonymously? Jan Feld at the Department of Economics and colleagues have made a field experiment to find out. The results are presented in the article "Endophilia or Exophobia: Beyond Discrimination", which has just been accepted for publication in the Economic Journal.

First of all, you are using the very unusual terms endophilia and exophobia, which I couldn't even find in the dictionaries, why not just use the terms discrimination and favouritism?

'That's because we made them up. It is just quicker to talk about endophilia and exophobia than ingroup favouritism and outgroup discrimination.'

So what is your paper about?
'In many situations groups appear to be treated differently and we don't know whether this is a result of discrimination or favouritism. In this context we mean with discrimination a negative attitudes and favouritism a positive attitudes towards different groups of people. Both can drive differences in outcomes and we want to see which one matters more.'

'To answer this question we conducted a field experiment at Maastricht University, which has large shares of Dutch and German students. In the final exams we asked a random selection of students to not write their name but only their student ID on the answer sheets. Because of the randomization, students with and without name on their exams are on average the same so that we can attribute any differences in exam scores to the presence of the name. Doing this we find evidence for favouritism by nationality: students with the same nationality as the grader get more points when their name is visible. We find no evidence for discrimination by nationality.'

Why does this matter?
'I think it is important to understand the psychological mechanisms that drive differential treatment. Such an understanding can, for example, help inform campaigns that try to change people's attitudes. If favouritism is more important than discrimination it might be a good idea to remind people that being extra nice to your own group will often automatically disadvantage others.'

What are the implications for exam grading?
'Anonymous exam grading can increase grading fairness. At the School of Business, Economics and Law all exams are anonymized before they reach the grader. This is a fabulous system which should be adapted more widely. Anonymizing exams requires some extra work on behalf of the faculty. But I think this is a price worth paying for increased grading fairness.'

Are you planning to follow-up on this subject in any way?
'Yes, I want to study to what extent discrimination or favouritism matters in the labour market. To do this I want to use survey questions about peoples' discriminatory and favouring attitudes and test which one's better explain the Black-White wage gap in the US.'

"Endophilia or Exophobia: Beyond Discrimination" by Jan Feld, Nicolás Salamanca and Daniel S. Hamermesh: