August 2004

IZA DP No. 1257: Outlier Aversion in Evaluating Performance: Evidence from Figure Skating

published as 'Outlier Aversion in Subjective Evaluation: Evidence From World Figure Skating Championships' in: Journal of Sports Economics, 2008, 9 (2), 141-159

The quality of subjective performance evaluation is dependent on the incentive structures faced by evaluators, in particular on how they are monitored and themselves evaluated. Figure skating competitions provide a unique opportunity to study subjective evaluation. This paper develops and tests a simple model of what I call "outlier aversion bias" in which subjective evaluators avoid submitting outlying judgments. We find significant evidence for the existence of outlier aversion. Individual judges within a game manipulate scores to achieve a targeted level of agreement with the other judges. Furthermore, a natural experiment shows that the dispersion of scores across judges depends upon the type of judge-assessment system and its implication for outlier aversion. Agreement may not be a good criterion for the validity of an evaluation system, contradicting the industrial psychology and personnel management literature.