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Subjective Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy
Last registered on November 13, 2018


Trial Information
General Information
Subjective Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy
Initial registration date
November 09, 2018
Last updated
November 13, 2018 1:12 AM EST
Primary Investigator
University of Basel
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Bonn
Additional Trial Information
In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In this laboratory experiment, we intend to analyze how work arrangements that couple employee autonomy and performance incentives affect occupational stress. According to the Job Demand-Control model (Karasek, 1979, Administrative Science Quarterly, p. 285-308), individuals may experience detrimental health effects when job demands are not met by a sufficient level of decision latitude (i.e., autonomy). Yet, it is not clear whether granting autonomy to employees who face incentivized performance targets may impair their well-being. In such incentive schemes, autonomy, e.g., in terms of self-determined working time, could induce workers who strive for reaching their performance goals to provide effort beyond an optimal level. This effect should be particularly pronounced if individuals face uncertainty about the level of their performance. We use a real-effort task in a laboratory setting, in which we manipulate the extent of autonomy, certainty, and incentives, to analyze which working conditions are perceived as particularly stressful.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Dohmen, Thomas and Elena Shvartsman. 2018. "Subjective Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy." AEA RCT Registry. November 13. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.3532-1.0.
Former Citation
Dohmen, Thomas, Elena Shvartsman and Elena Shvartsman. 2018. "Subjective Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy." AEA RCT Registry. November 13. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/3532/history/37132.
Experimental Details
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Primary appraisals index as well as threat and challenge indices, which comprise the primary appraisal items of the PASA questionnaire (Gaab et al. 2005, Psychoneuroendocrinology, p. 599-610); Choice of working time (and its difference to optimal working time)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Pre-task and post-task elicitation of self-reported feelings of stress and well-being; self-perceived effort exertion; Choice of working regimes
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Our design comprises six treatment arms, which vary by the extent of certainty about one’s own performance, the level of working time autonomy and the incentive structure. In all treatments, subjects work on a real-effort task adopted from Fliessbach et al. (2007, Science, p. 1305-1308). We ran a calibration study to select a work sequence, which permits us to target an ex-ante performance rate.
In the four main treatment arms, we incentivize performance by offering a bonus (as opposed by a fixed pay in the two other treatments) for reaching an absolute performance. We manipulate the extent of performance uncertainty by either continuously providing performance feedback or by only informing subjects at the end of the experiment about their performance. Since the level of difficulty of the working task is held constant across treatments and set such that the performance target is feasible according to the ex-ante calibrated rate, our research design enables us to elicit how individuals’ stress and effort are affected by exogenous changes in working time autonomy. We do so by contrasting a fixed working time regime with an autonomy regime. In the latter, subjects can stop working at any time or extend working time by foregoing monetary compensation. Subjects are allowed to read magazines when not working.
During the experiment, we elicit measures of subjective stress and well-being, the appraisal of a situation’s stressfulness, and track our subjects’ working time and working regime choices. Furthermore, we measure participants’ demographics, personality traits, and preferences, such as risk attitudes, uncertainty aversion, and their willingness to avoid workplace stress, in order to assess whether the individual stress response to working conditions is heterogeneous and whether this heterogeneity is partly determined by these measures.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Experimental sessions
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
ca. 430 participants
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We aim at a balanced design with roughly 70 participants per treatment arm
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)