Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy
Last registered on June 14, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy
Initial registration date
November 30, 2018
Last updated
June 14, 2019 6:39 AM EDT

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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
Based on our study “Subjective Stress, Autonomy, and Incentives” (AEARCTR-0003532) we analyze how work arrangements that couple employee autonomy and performance incentives affect workplace stress. In this study, we intend to evaluate individuals’ physiological stress responses by sampling their salivary cortisol. Furthermore, we intend to compare subjective stress appraisals with the physiological response, in order to assess whether individuals potentially misjudge the extent to which a certain situation stresses them.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Dohmen, Thomas and Elena Shvartsman. 2019. "Stress, Incentives, and Autonomy." AEA RCT Registry. June 14.
Experimental Details
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Cortisol measured via saliva; Primary appraisals index as well as threat and challenge indices, which comprise the primary appraisal items of the PASA questionnaire (Gaab et al. 2005); Choice of working time (and its difference to optimal working time)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
All indices are constructed as averages of the respective items.
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
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The design resembles the one described under AEARCTR-0003532. However, it is limited to the four main treatment arms, which vary by the extent of certainty about one’s own performance and the level of working time autonomy. Subjects are randomized into one of the four treatment arms, where the treatment arm characterized neither by autonomy nor performance certainty serves as the main control group. In all treatments, subjects work on a real-effort task adopted from Fliessbach et al. (2007).
During the experiment, we repeatedly sample subjects’ salivary cortisol. Furthermore, we elicit measures of subjective stress and well-being, the appraisal of how stressful a situation is, and track our subjects’ working time choices. We also measure participants’ demographics, personality traits and preferences, such as risk attitudes, uncertainty aversion, and an 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.

Fliessbach, K., Weber, B., Trautner, P., Dohmen, T., Sunde, U., Elger, C. E. and Falk, A., “Social Comparison Affects Reward-Related Brain Activity in the Human Ventral Striatum”, Science, 2007, 318(5854), pp. 1305 – 1308.

Gaab, J., Rohleder, N., Nater, U. M. and Ehlert, U., “Psychological Determinants of the Cortisol Stress Response: The Role of Anticipatory Cognitive Appraisal”, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2005, 30(6), pp. 599 – 610.

Dohmen, Thomas, Ingrid Rohde, and Tom Stolp, “Stress and incentives," Chapter 4 of the dissertation “Sorting in the labor market: The role of risk preference and stress", Tom Stolp, Maastricht University 2017.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
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
no clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
We ran power calculations (power 0.8, alpha 0.05) based on the results of the first sessions (71 subjects over 4 treatment arms) and aim at ca. 70 subjects per treatment arm, i.e., 280 subjects in total
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We aim at a balanced design with roughly equal number of participants per treatment arm
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Ethikkommission an der Medizinischen Fakultät der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number