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Temptation and commitment in the laboratory

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  • Houser, Daniel
  • Schunk, Daniel
  • Winter, Joachim
  • Xiao, Erte

Abstract

We report data from a novel laboratory experiment on economic decisions under persistent temptations. This type of temptation is ubiquitous, as it refers to any temptation that is present until one either gives in or makes a costly commitment decision to have it removed. Subjects in our experiment are repeatedly offered an option with instantaneous benefit that also entails a substantial reduction to overall earnings. We 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 not to choose this alternative. We find that commitment and giving in to temptation generally occur at the first opportunity, though a non-negligible fraction of subjects delay either making the commitment decision or giving in to temptation. This delay is consistent with the costs of self-control increasing with its use.

Suggested Citation

  • Houser, Daniel & Schunk, Daniel & Winter, Joachim & Xiao, Erte, 2018. "Temptation and commitment in the laboratory," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 329-344.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:gamebe:v:107:y:2018:i:c:p:329-344
    DOI: 10.1016/j.geb.2017.10.025
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    1. B. Douglas Bernheim & Debraj Ray & Şevin Yeltekin, 2015. "Poverty and Self‐Control," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 83(5), pages 1877-1911, September.
    2. Patterson, Richard W., 2018. "Can behavioral tools improve online student outcomes? Experimental evidence from a massive open online course," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 293-321.
    3. Airaudo, Marco, 2020. "Temptation and forward-guidance," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 186(C).
    4. Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. & Dahmann, Sarah Christina & Kamhöfer, Daniel A. & Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah, 2019. "Self-control: Determinants, life outcomes and intergenerational implications," DICE Discussion Papers 319, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE).
    5. Bisin, Alberto & Hyndman, Kyle, 2020. "Present-bias, procrastination and deadlines in a field experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 339-357.
    6. Beshears, John & Choi, James J. & Harris, Christopher & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C. & Sakong, Jung, 2020. "Which early withdrawal penalty attracts the most deposits to a commitment savings account?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 183(C).
    7. Frank Schilbach, 2019. "Alcohol and Self-Control: A Field Experiment in India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(4), pages 1290-1322, April.
    8. DeJarnette, Patrick, 2020. "Temptation over time: Delays help," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 177(C), pages 752-761.
    9. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Meer & Neva K. Novarro, 2012. "Do Consumers Exploit Precommitment Opportunities? Evidence from Natural Experiments Involving Liquor Consumption," NBER Working Papers 17762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Burger, Nicholas & Charness, Gary & Lynham, John, 2011. "Field and online experiments on self-control," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 77(3), pages 393-404, March.
    11. Katharina M. Eckartz, 2014. "Task enjoyment and opportunity costs in the lab - the effect of financial incentives on performance in real effort tasks," Jena Economic Research Papers 2014-005, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    12. Buechel, Berno & Mechtenberg, Lydia & Petersen, Julia, 2014. "Peer Effects and Students’ Self-Control," MPRA Paper 53658, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Kirchkamp, Oliver & Prömpers, Henning, 2013. "Discharge of residual debt: Do private and institutional lenders differ?," VfS Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79851, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    14. Katherine L. Milkman & Julia A. Minson & Kevin G. M. Volpp, 2014. "Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 60(2), pages 283-299, February.
    15. Reddy Sai Shiva & Kausik Gangopadhyay, 2018. "Temptation in purchasing decision: A Quasi Experiment to Validate the Set Betweenness axiom," Working papers 268, Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode.
    16. Buechel, Berno & Mechtenberg, Lydia & Petersen, Julia, 2018. "If I can do it, so can you! Peer effects on perseverance," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 155(C), pages 301-314.
    17. Claes Ek & Margaret Samahita, 2019. "Pessimism and Overcommitment," Working Papers 201921, School of Economics, University College Dublin.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Self-control; Willpower; Temptation; Commitment; Laboratory experiment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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