Effects of Structural and Trait Competitiveness Stimulated by Points and Leaderboards on User Engagement and Performance Growth: A Natural Experiment With Gamification in an Informal Learning Environment

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European Journal of Information Systems

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Rooted in theories of competitiveness and social comparison, we model the effects of users’ structural and trait competitiveness on their engagement and performance growth in an informal learning environment. We hypothesise that game elements of points and leaderboards stimulate users’ structural competitiveness, which affects users’ engagement and has an inverted-U effect on performance growth. We further hypothesise that these effects are stronger among individuals with higher trait competitiveness. We tested our hypotheses using data from a natural experiment conducted over 300 days on 88,310 unique users who made 215,920 game interactions within the Cyber Detectives exhibit at the Tech Interactive museum in California. Our results are based on two objective measures of trait-competitiveness as both behaviour and outcome (percentile ranking on total time spent and number of badges earned, respectively), multiple objective measures of user engagement (time spent per attempt, number of reattempts, and daily user attempts), and an objective measure of performance growth (points). Results provide overall support to our hypotheses. We contribute to the gamification literature by providing strong causal evidence of points and leaderboards triggering structural and trait competitiveness, which interact to affect both engagement and performance growth in informal learning contexts.


Gamification; Competitiveness; Performance growth; Engagement; Competitive game element; Social comparison


Business Administration, Management, and Operations



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