Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Roger Buehler

Advisor Role



There is a strong conceptual association between improvement and effort. Therefore, we propose that people tend to use improvement as a heuristic for judging effort in others. Hence, they would perceive greater effort in improved performance records than in non-improved records with superior overall performance. To examine whether people use improvement as a heuristic for effort, we compared judgments of effort investments and trait effort in improved and consistently-strong performance profiles with equivalent recent performance. Across six empirical studies, participants thought that those with improved profiles exerted more effort and were more hardworking than those with consistently-strong profiles, and this resulted in a preference for improved candidates when making decisions (e.g., selecting among candidates for a promotion). Even when we introduced manipulations that highlighted strengths of the consistent profiles, participants still made effort judgements in favour of improvement (Studies 2 and 3). Moreover, participants had a greater tendency to mention effort as a reason for selecting an improved (vs. consistently-strong) candidate for an award (Study 4). Furthermore, two studies (Studies 5 and 6) showed that the use of improvement as a heuristic for effort was restricted to contexts with considerable ambiguity. Finally, we examined the overall effects using meta-analyses (Study 7). Overall, the results provided converging evidence that people use improvement as a heuristic for judging effort, particularly in contexts that are relatively ambiguous, and that these judgments can have implications for important decisions.

Convocation Year