Business & Information Systems Engineering

Document Type

Research Paper


A natural experiment on a popular German Question & Answer community is used to find out whether the small-area hypothesis applies to user activation by means of a virtual reward in the form of badges. Koo and Fishbach’s small-area hypothesis posits that individuals in pursuit of a goal are more highly motivated when focusing on the smaller percentage of progress towards their goal, irrespective of whether this figure represents the actions already completed or those still remaining. Consistent with the authors’ theoretical predictions, the study finds empirical evidence for the small-area effect and its activating power, translated here into increased online user contributions. Besides contributing to the literature with an empirical study anchored in theory, the findings have direct practical implications for designers of online virtual reward systems by suggesting more effective (and motivating) ways of framing user progress towards virtual rewards.