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Behavioral Foundations of Power and Control

Project description

Taking a deeper look at behavioural reactions to power and autonomy

The dynamics of power relations are crucial in families and in business, as well as within economic and political institutions. This makes all decisions concerning power and autonomy very important for people. But are choices made based on expected consequences and external circumstances? Or are they based on the value individuals assign to power or autonomy? To find the answer, the EU-funded CONTROL project will investigate the reasons behind differences in attitudes towards autonomy and power. It will also study the consequences. A novel revealed preference approach will allow researchers to separately measure the intrinsic value of power and the intrinsic value of autonomy.


Power relations are an integral part of economic organizations, as well as political and social institutions. People exercise power over others – or are exposed to the power of others – in government, in firms, and even in families. People care deeply about power and autonomy, and attitudes towards them have important economic and societal consequences. Examples include such diverse matters as the willingness to delegate power to government, empire building in public organizations, or sorting into more or less autonomous jobs. Despite their importance, we have remarkably little knowledge about preferences for power and autonomy. Clearly, power and autonomy are valued for being instrumental in achieving desirable outcomes, but it has also long been argued that they are valuable for their own sake. Existing value measures of power and autonomy, however, fail to distinguish between intrinsic and instrumental value components. Power distance and autonomy are even considered to be cultural values, but we don’t know whether differences in such measures are rooted in differences in the instrumental value or differences in preferences. We propose a novel revealed preference approach that allows us to address this shortcoming by separately measuring the intrinsic value of power and the intrinsic value of autonomy. We can then apply this method to properly assess heterogeneity in such values within and across cultures. By combining our measures with other data, we will be able to study the importance of such preferences in explaining individual differences, such as occupational choices or expressed political views, as well as economic outcomes across countries, such as the level of decentralization in economic organizations. Finally, we will study how behavioral reactions to power interact with such preferences and organizational structure, in order to better understand how institutions can be efficiently designed when behavioral reactions to power are accounted for.




Net EU contribution
€ 1 492 785,00
Avenue de l europe 20
1700 Fribourg

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Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera Espace Mittelland Fribourg / Freiburg
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)