The economic psychology of incentives: an international study of top managers

Alexander Pepper, Julie Gore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (SciVal)


The world-wide inflation in executive compensation in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of long-term incentives. This article demonstrates how the subjectively perceived value of long-term incentives is affected by risk aversion, uncertainty aversion, and time preferences. Based on a unique empirical study which involved collecting primary data on executive preferences from around the world, and using a theoretical framework which draws on behavioral agency theory, we conclude that, while long-term incentives are perceived by executives to be effective, they are not in fact an efficient form of reward, and that this outcome is not significantly affected by cross-cultural differences. We conjecture that boards of directors, acting on behalf of shareholders, increase the size of long-term incentive awards in order to compensate executives for the perceived loss of value when compared with less risky, more certain and more immediate forms of reward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-361
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of World Business
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • Agency theory
  • Behavioral economics
  • Executive compensation
  • Long-term incentives
  • Motivation


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