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Temptation and productivity: A field experiment with children

  • Bucciol, Alessandro
  • Houser, Daniel
  • Piovesan, Marco

Substantial evidence from psychology suggests that resisting temptation (exercising self-control) in one domain subsequently reduces one's capacity to regulate behavior in other domains. A reason is that people have limited self-regulatory resources, and self-regulatory failure occurs when these resources become overwhelmed. This paper provides evidence that this same mechanism can lead to reduced economic productivity subsequent to exposure to temptation. Using a design inspired by the classic "Marshmallow Test", we report data from a field experiment in which children between the ages of 6 and 13 were exposed (or not) to a consumption temptation. We use these ages to take advantage of the well-established fact that the self-regulatory resources of younger children are more easily depleted than those of older children. We find that, subsequent to exposure to temptation, productivity of younger children is significantly detrimentally impacted, while that of older children remains essentially unchanged. To our knowledge, this is the first rigorous demonstration that one need not succumb to temptation in order for it to detrimentally impact one's economic productivity.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 78 (2011)
Issue (Month): 1-2 (April)
Pages: 126-136

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:78:y:2011:i:1-2:p:126-136
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  1. Emre Ozdenoren & Stephen Salant & Dan Silverman, 2006. "Willpower and the Optimal Control of Visceral Urges," Economics Working Papers 0069, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  2. Kathleen D. Vohs & Ronald J. Faber, 2007. "Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(4), pages 537-547, 01.
  3. Shiv, Baba & Fedorikhin, Alexander, 1999. " Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 278-92, December.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. repec:lmu:muenar:19377 is not listed on IDEAS
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