Free to Choose: Testing the Pure Motivation Effect of Autonomous Choice

Tomas Sjöström (Rutgers University), Levent Ülkü (ITAM), Radovan Vadovic (Carleton University)

Abstract: We conduct an experimental test of the long-standing conjecture that autonomy increases motivation and job performance. Subjects face a menu consisting of two projects: one risky and one safe. The probability that the risky project succeeds depends on the subject’s effort. In one treatment, subjects choose a project from the menu; in the other treatment, they are assigned a project from the menu. Using a difference-in-difference approach that controls for various forms of selection, we show that autonomy (the right to choose a project) has a significant pure motivation effect on effort. The effect is consistent with aversion to anticipated regret (but not with standard expected-utility maximization): if the agent chooses the risky project and fails, he will regret not having chosen the safe project, and this motivates him to work hard to avoid a failure. Regret theory makes further predictions that are also supported by the data. First, that the pure motivation effect is greater if the menu of feasible projects is diverse, generating a more meaningful choice among projects. Second, that the effort on the risky project is greater, the greater is the return to the safe project, because this (foregone) return determines the amount of regret. Finally, we find a significant negative relationship between the strength of the pure motivation effect and the subjects’ expected earnings.

Radovan Vadovic is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Carleton University and a director of Carleton’s experimental economics laboratory (CELBER). Rado is an experimental and behavioural economist with wide interests, including studying the shape and formation of beliefs in strategic interactions, examining the behavioural foundations of choice, and exploring the grassroots of legitimacy and social validation. His work has been supported by numerous grants and has appeared in some of the leading economics journals, such as, Experimental Economics and Games and Economics Behavior.

The following lists the current weekly Fall/Winter Colloquia for The Institute of Cognitive Science . If there is no Colloquia listed for a specific week, the reason is given below.

Note: All Colloquia are located in Dunton Tower, Room 2203 and start at 3pm.


Sep 13: Radovan Vadovic: Free to Choose: Testing the Pure Motivation Effect of Autonomous Choice

Sep 20: Christopher Viger: Small Worlds Big Ideas

Sep 27: ICS Faculty Meeting

Oct 04: Daniel Siddiqi: TBA

Oct 11: John Logan: Language and Psychopathy

Oct 18: Robert West: IQ as a social construct: The genetic evidence that IQ is not genetic

Oct 25: Fall Break

Nov 01: ICS Faculty Meeting

Nov 08: Joshua Shepard: TBA

Nov 15: Myrto Mylopolous: The Intelligence of Skilled Action and Automaticity

Nov 22: Olessia Jouravlev: Searching for brain-based markers of autism

Nov 29: ICS Faculty Meeting

Dec 06: Michael Masson: TBA