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Temptation at Work: A Field Experiment on Willpower and Productivity

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Author Info

  • Alessandro Bucciol

    ()
    (Department of General Economics, University of Amsterdam, Netspar, and Department of Economics, University of Verona)

  • Daniel Houser

    ()
    (Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science and Department of Economics, George Mason University)

  • Marco Piovesan

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

Abstract

Temptations are a largely unavoidable part of life. Resisting them is usually seen as a virtuous behavior. Recent research in social psychology, however, suggests that using willpower to delay gratification can detrimentally impact performance on immediately subsequent tasks. Using standard economic theory, we develop a model connecting willpower to productivity. When delaying gratification is difficult, the model predicts exposure to a tempting good detrimentally impacts productivity, while when delaying gratification is easy, exposure to temptation can lead to productivity gains. We then report data from a field experiment with children of different ages. Since the research in child development has established that younger children have difficulty delaying gratification, while after age 10 children become skilled at doing so, we exploited this exogenous variation to test the predictions of our model. Our results suggest that a prohibited temptation affects work productivity in a way consistent with theory: it is negative for the youngest children (aged under 8) and positive for the oldest (aged above 10). We also observe a significantly different impact by gender. It thus seems that prohibiting a temptation needs not eliminate its impact on productivity, a result of importance to anyone interested in designing policies to promote efficiency.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science in its series Working Papers with number 1013.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1013

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Keywords: willpower; children; temptation; productivity; field experiment;

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References

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  1. W. Pesendorfer & F. Gul, 1999. "Temptation and Self-Control," Princeton Economic Theory Papers 99f1, Economics Department, Princeton University.
  2. Drew Fudenberg & David K. Levine, 2004. "A Dual Self Model of Impulse Control," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2049, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. Nicholas Burger & Gary Charness & John Lynham, 2008. "Three Field Experiments on Procrastination and Willpower," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002399, David K. Levine.
  4. Emre Ozdenoren & Stephen W. Salant & Dan Silverman, 2012. "Willpower And The Optimal Control Of Visceral Urges," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(2), pages 342-368, 04.
  5. S. Dellavigna., 2011. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 5.
  6. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  7. Kathleen D. Vohs & Ronald J. Faber, 2007. "Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(4), pages 537-547, 01.
  8. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 1996. "Doing It Now or Later," Discussion Papers 1172, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  9. Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2006. "Paying Not to Go to the Gym," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 694-719, June.
  10. Shiv, Baba & Fedorikhin, Alexander, 1999. " Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(3), pages 278-92, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Alessandro Bucciol & Daniel Houser & Marco Piovesan, 2010. "Willpower in children and adults: a survey of results and economic implications," International Review of Economics, Springer, vol. 57(3), pages 259-267, September.
  2. Daniel Houser & Daniel Schunk & Joachim Winter & Erte Xiao, 2010. "Temptation and commitment in the laboratory," IEW - Working Papers 488, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.

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