The Köhler effect

Start of 4×100m relay, 2008 Olympics (photo: “Jmex60”)

In line with the current Olympic fever, a recent article in Wired magazine discusses the Köhler effect in relay races. The Köhler effect (see Hertel et al. 2000 and Kerr et al. 2005) is a phenomenon where less capable members of a team are motivated to perform at a higher level so as to “keep up” with their team-mates (some degree of feedback on performance is required).

A recent journal article cited by Wired studied collegiate swim and high-school track & field relays, and showed a significant Köhler effect, especially in finals. Kerr has also demonstrated the effect in other kinds of collaborative activity.

The lesson here is: to produce a truly stellar team, motivate the weaker members to “keep up,” show them how, and provide objective feedback on how well they are doing.

Members of Cassini spacecraft imaging team, crossing Abbey road (photo:

– Tony


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