Free to Choose: Testing the Pure Motivation Effect of Autonomous Choice
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 selection effects, 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. Futher, as predicted by regret theory, effort on the (chosen) risky project is increasing in the return to the (unchosen) safe project, and the pure motivation effect is greater, the riskier is the risky project. Finally, we find a significant negative relationship between the strength of the pure motivation effect and the subjects' expected earnings.