Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences Organization News PhD Defences BSS

The autonomy challenge

5 ways to control control
PhD ceremony:Ms N.H. (Nieke) Lemmen
When:May 25, 2023
Supervisor:prof. dr. E.M. (Linda) Steg
Co-supervisor:T. (Thijs) Bouman, PhD
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
The autonomy challenge

In our current society there is a great emphasis on autonomy: making your own choices, having options and endless possibilities. It is generally assumed that more autonomy is better. In this dissertation we argue that this is not always the case, as too high levels of autonomy can have negative consequences for individuals (e.g. choice-overload, frustration or choice-inertia) as well as society (e.g. result in socially undesirable behavior such as littering or environmentally unfriendly behavior). We identified five ways to reduce the likelihood that such negative consequences occur, without compromising people’s feelings of autonomy. We show that: (1) experiencing or (2) anticipating the (potential) negative consequences of high levels of autonomy can reduce peoples preferences for high levels of autonomy, (3) asking people to carefully think about how much autonomy they would like to have over something, and frame this in such a way that they have the feeling of gaining autonomy rather than losing it, can decrease people’s desire for high levels of autonomy, (4) ensuring feelings of autonomy by providing default options that take away user frustration, and (5) creating a sense of autonomy over externally imposed rules to govern behavior, by providing arguments explaining the importance of the rule and the desired behavior or asking people to convince themselves of the importance of the rule and the behavior, can increase the adoption and the perceived importance of this behavior. These strategies satisfy peoples innate need for autonomy while guiding them to make choices that have positive consequences for themselves as well as others.