Study: Overachieving Isn't Worth It

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The real world doesn’t offer extra credit. No one cares if you over-deliver on your promises — but you still lose points if you under-deliver, according to a new study led by behavioral scientist Ayelet Gneezy of the University of California, San Diego.

Here’s a breakdown of the research, published recently in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science:

(Researchers) asked college students to imagine using an online company to buy concert tickets for Row 10.  The participants then were randomly instructed to consider receiving seating that was either worse than, better than, or exactly as promised. They then indicated their level of satisfaction with the purchase, as well their likelihood of both using the online ticketing company again and recommending the service to friends.

Unsurprisingly, the participants reacted negatively when they received tickets for seats that were worse than promised (no matter how bad the seats turned out to be). 

But they were no more positive—in fact, were slightly more negative—when they received better tickets than promised compared to getting exactly what they were guaranteed.

The paper focused on what companies can do to keep customers happy, but there are some takeaways here for the rest of us, too. In everyday life, these findings suggest your boss doesn’t care if you turn a project in early, but she’ll definitely be mad if you turn it in late. So meet your deadlines and keep your promises — but maybe you don’t need to do anything more.