DS0802 -

Assessing the value of freedom: an experimental approach – VALFREE

Evaluating the value of freedom: an experimental approach

Does more freedom of choice improve well-being?

Identify the value of freedom of choice.

Recent debates around the health crisis have put the freedom of choice back at the center of citizens' concerns, whether it is the freedom to be vaccinated or not or, conversely, that of not risk of contracting Covid.<br />The objective of the VALFREE project is to study to what extent freedom of choice improves, or not, individual well-being. We may want freedom because it allows us to choose options that better suit our needs and preferences (instrumental value). But we can also derive satisfaction from the mere fact of having choice and being free (intrinsic value). Finally, the choice process can involve cognitive and psychological costs (difficulty of choosing, regret, temptation, etc.) which diminish the value of freedom of choice.<br />In this project, we seek on the one hand to identify individual attitudes towards freedom of choice: do individuals have a preference for freedom? On the other hand, we study how the proliferation of choice can affect the way individuals make decisions: Are individuals more rational when faced with a multitude of options?

To answer such questions, we use empirical methodologies: in particular, laboratory experiments, surveys, and real consumption data. Experiments create a controlled environment that allows us to identify individual preferences and decisions. Questionnaire surveys allowed us to study individual judgments and behaviors in a less artificial context than the laboratory and with a larger and more diversified sample. Finally, consumption data allowed us to study real behaviors to study the impact of the proliferation of choice on behaviors.

Do individuals have a preference for freedom of choice? The results of our experiments suggest that individuals have a certain aversion to freedom of choice (for themselves). That is explained by the existence of cognitive and psychological costs linked to the decision-making process. However, when they judge the situation of other individuals, they judge that the freedom (of others) has a certain intrinsic value.
Are individuals more rational when faced with a multitude of options? Our studies show that individuals more frequently choose familiar options or are more likely to follow recommendations (on digital platforms) in contexts of choice proliferation.

We identify two perspectives. The first is to study individual attitudes towards freedom of choice in greater depth. For example, it is possible to consider whether the value assigned to freedom varies according to the domain (health, education, etc.). A second way is to focus our attention on freedom in a social and collective framework. A key issue that is neglected by economists is the role and value of autonomy and democratic processes within organizations.

Our research has resulted in academic articles in leading academic journals in economics (Journal of the European Economic Association, Games and Economic Behavior, Theory and Decision) and moral philosophy (Utilitas, Economics & Philosophy)

This project aims at investigating the value that people attach to freedom, i.e.., the extent and nature of opportunities they have.
The project consists of two main tasks.

1) In the first task, our goal is to study individual attitudes towards freedom: how do they evaluate opportunity situations? In this project, we focus on, first, the attractiveness of opportunity sets (i.e., sets of alternatives available to them for choice) and, second, the aversion of being prevented to do some actions by others (like someone else or government).
As individual attitude toward freedom is expected to be influenced by cultural norms and values, one of our objectives is to make a cross-cultural investigation: How do people from different cultural backgrounds differ in terms of the intrinsic value they place on freedom and decision right?

2) In the second task, we intend to study on the negative consequences of choice proliferation on individual decision process, the so-called choice overload effect. Our objective is two-fold. (a) Our aim is to disentangle various explanations of this (possible) phenomenon. We can put them in two broad categories: cognitive explanations and preference ones (regret, loss aversion, etc.). (b) Another topic we intend to study in this task is how people can escape from choice overload: What kind(s) of mechanisms or choice architectures allow them to avoid negative effects of choice proliferation?

To investigate these questions, we plan to use experimental methodology: laboratory experiment but also surveys (hypothetical choice) and field experiments. However, we rely on its complementarity with methodologies like theory (in particular theoretical economics), normative analysis and philosophy.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CREM Centre de Recherche en Economie et Management

Help of the ANR 580,668 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 48 Months

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