ERC Starting Grant30.07.2018

How important are power and autonomy to us?

Why did Britain vote for Brexit? What are the underlying reasons for Switzerland’s dislike of the EU? One of the most important motives is autonomy. But to what extent are we prepared to trade financial advantages for it? Up till now, little is known about the basis of preferences for power and autonomy, what kind of consequences they have for our daily lives and how they vary between cultures and individuals. Now a researcher at the University of Fribourg is keen to know more. His curiosity has convinced the European Research Council which is supporting his project with approximately 1.7 million Swiss francs.

The research team of Professor Holger Herz, Chair of Industrial Economics at the University of Fribourg, would like to investigate the why and wherefore of our preferences for power and autonomy. To achieve this, the 36-year-old has received a so-called ERC Starting Grant. The subsidy from the European Research Council will enable him and a team of two colleagues to study this still largely unresearched field in depth over five years. It is the first Fribourg ERC grant to be awarded to an economist.

The basis for variation in preferences
Our social, political and economic environment is shaped by power relations. In town meetings, in the family or in the workplace each one of us is continually affected by the consequences of decisions made by others. Yet everyone has their own view regarding to what extent they wish to exercise or be subjected to power or rather to be totally independent. The researchers would now like to find out where these different attitudes come from and what effect they have on important life decisions, such as choice of career or the structuring of our political institutions. But they don’t want to just leave it at that.

Measuring preferences across cultures
Cultural differences in attitude to autonomy and power will also be researched. For it is still unclear whether observed differences are the result of diversity in people’s inner attitudes or whether they are due to external circumstances. To determine this, the researchers have developed a new measurement tool with which they will be gathering data in various countries over the next few years. This will allow them to measure participants’ inner attitudes towards autonomy and power and to gain first insights into cultural differences.

Increasing motivation thanks to the right mix
Autonomy and power are also integral to increasing the inner motivation of employees. But then what influence do intensely hierarchical structures have on behaviour? The research project will also deal expressly with the question of which form of organisation leads to the greatest possible efficiency and employee motivation .

Further Information:
Professor Herz’ website
ERC website