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Temptation and productivity: A field experiment with children

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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Bucciol, Alessandro & Houser, Daniel & Piovesan, Marco, 2011. "Temptation and productivity: A field experiment with children," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 126-136.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:78:y:2011:i:1:p:126-136 DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2010.12.013
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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, April.
    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, January.
    3. repec:zur:iewwpx:488 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Daniel Houser & David Reiley & Michael Urbancic, 2004. "Checking Out Temptation: An Natural Experiment with Purchases at the Grocery Register," Working Papers 1001, George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, revised Nov 2008.
    5. repec:lmu:muenar:19377 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. 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 278-292, December.
    7. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Aurélie Bonein & Laurent Denant-Boèmont, 2015. "Self-control, commitment and peer pressure: a laboratory experiment," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 18(4), pages 543-568, December.
    2. Michael A. Kuhn & Peter Kuhn & Marie Claire Villeval, 2013. "The Importance of the Cognitive Environment for Intertemporal Choice," Working Papers 1316, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique Lyon St-Étienne (GATE Lyon St-Étienne), Université de Lyon.
    3. Kocher, Martin G. & Lucks, Konstantin E. & Schindler, David, 2016. "Unleashing Animal Spirits - Self-Control and Overpricing in Experimental Asset Markets," Discussion Papers in Economics 27572, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    4. Lades, Leonhard K., 2014. "Impulsive consumption and reflexive thought: Nudging ethical consumer behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 114-128.
    5. de Haan, Thomas & van Veldhuizen, Roel, 2015. "Willpower depletion and framing effects," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 47-61.
    6. repec:eee:eecrev:v:100:y:2017:i:c:p:463-487 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Koch, Alexander & Nafziger, Julia & Nielsen, Helena Skyt, 2015. "Behavioral economics of education," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 3-17.
    8. Gerhardt, Holger & Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah & Willrodt, Jana, 2017. "Does self-control depletion affect risk attitudes?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 463-487.
    9. Alan, Sule & Ertac, Seda, 2015. "Patience, self-control and the demand for commitment: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 111-122.
    10. John Ifcher & Homa Zarghamee, 2011. "Happiness and Time Preference: The Effect of Positive Affect in a Random-Assignment Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3109-3129, December.
    11. Lucks, Konstantin, 2016. "The Impact of Self-Control on Investment Decisions," MPRA Paper 73099, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Alessandro Bucciol & Daniel Houser & Marco Piovesan, 2011. "Temptation at work," Harvard Business School Working Papers 11-090, Harvard Business School.
    13. Coda Moscarola, Flavia & Migheli, Matteo, 2015. "Educating Children to Save: an Experimental Approach to Financial Education of Pupils in Primary Schools," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 201502, University of Turin.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Willpower; Children; Temptation; Productivity; Field experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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