Becker Friedman Institute

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Psychological Foundations of Incentives

During the last two decades economists have made much progress in understanding incentives, contracts and organizations. Yet, they constrained their attention to a very narrow and empirically questionable view of human motivation. The purpose of this paper is to show that this narrow view of human motivation may severely limit understanding the determinants and effects of incentives. Economists may fail to understand the levels and the changes in behaviour if they neglect motives like the desire to reciprocate or the desire to avoid social disapproval. We show that monetary incentives may backfire and reduce the performance of agents or their compliance with rules. In addition, these motives may generate very powerful incentives themselves.

Authors: 
Ernst Fehr, Universität Zürich
Armin Falk, University of Bonn
Publication Date: 
May, 2002
Publication Status: