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Temptation and Commitment in the Laboratory


Houser, Daniel; Schnunk, Daniel; Winter, Joachim; Xiao, Erte (2010). Temptation and Commitment in the Laboratory. Working paper series / Institute for Empirical Research in Economics No. 488, University of Zurich.

Abstract

Temptation and self-control in intertemporal choice environments are receiving increasing attention in the theoretical economics literature. Nevertheless, there remains a scarcity of empirical evidence from controlled environments informing behavior under repeated temptations. This is unfortunate in light of the fact that in many natural environments, the same temptation must be repeatedly resisted. This paper fills that gap by reporting data from a novel laboratory study of economic decisions under repeat temptations. Subjects are repeatedly offered an option with instantaneous benefit that also entails a substantial reduction to overall earnings.nWe show that this option is 'tempting' in the sense that a substantial fraction of our subjects incur pecuniary costs to eliminate the choice, and thus commit to not choosing the tempting alternative. We compare the timing and price-elasticity of these commitment decisions to predictions from existing theoretical models of decision under temptation. Our data are broadly consistent with theory, with the notable exception that commitment often occurs with delay rather than at the first opportunity. Moreover, the timing of commitment is significantly impacted by the cost of the commitment device. The patterns we report have direct implications for economic theory, and are a first step toward designing mechanisms that promote prudent economic decisions under temptation.

Temptation and self-control in intertemporal choice environments are receiving increasing attention in the theoretical economics literature. Nevertheless, there remains a scarcity of empirical evidence from controlled environments informing behavior under repeated temptations. This is unfortunate in light of the fact that in many natural environments, the same temptation must be repeatedly resisted. This paper fills that gap by reporting data from a novel laboratory study of economic decisions under repeat temptations. Subjects are repeatedly offered an option with instantaneous benefit that also entails a substantial reduction to overall earnings.nWe show that this option is 'tempting' in the sense that a substantial fraction of our subjects incur pecuniary costs to eliminate the choice, and thus commit to not choosing the tempting alternative. We compare the timing and price-elasticity of these commitment decisions to predictions from existing theoretical models of decision under temptation. Our data are broadly consistent with theory, with the notable exception that commitment often occurs with delay rather than at the first opportunity. Moreover, the timing of commitment is significantly impacted by the cost of the commitment device. The patterns we report have direct implications for economic theory, and are a first step toward designing mechanisms that promote prudent economic decisions under temptation.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Institute for Empirical Research in Economics (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:May 2010
Deposited On:29 Nov 2011 15:09
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:09
Series Name:Working paper series / Institute for Empirical Research in Economics
ISSN:1424-0459
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/wp.html
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-51747

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