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Reconciling pro-social vs. selfish behavior: On the role of self-control

  • Peter Martinsson
  • Kristian Ove R. Myrseth
  • Conny Wollbrant

We test in the context of a dictator game the proposition that individuals may experience a self-control conflict between the temptation to act selfishly and the better judgment to act pro-socially. We manipulated the likelihood that individuals would identify self-control conflict, and we measured their trait ability to implement self-control strategies. Our analysis reveals a positive and significant correlation between trait self-control and pro-social behavior in the treatment where we expected a relatively high likelihood of conflict identification---but not in the treatment where we expected a low likelihood. The magnitude of the effect is of economic significance. We conclude that subtle cues might prove sufficient to alter individuals' perception of allocation opportunities, thereby prompting individuals to draw on their own cognitive resources to act pro-socially.

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Article provided by Society for Judgment and Decision Making in its journal Judgment and Decision Making.

Volume (Year): 7 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 (May)
Pages: 304-315

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Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:7:y:2012:i:3:p:304-315
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  1. 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.
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  13. Burks, Stephen V. & Carpenter, Jeffrey P. & Götte, Lorenz & Rustichini, Aldo, 2008. "Cognitive Skills Explain Economic Preferences, Strategic Behavior, and Job Attachment," IZA Discussion Papers 3609, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Kristian Ove R. Myrseth & Conny Wollbrant, 2011. "Naïve and capricious: Stumbling into the ring of self-control conflict," ESMT Research Working Papers ESMT-11-09, ESMT European School of Management and Technology.
  15. Piovesan, Marco & Wengström, Erik, 2009. "Fast or fair? A study of response times," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 105(2), pages 193-196, November.
  16. Ariely, Dan & Bracha, Anat & Meier, Stephan, 2007. "Doing Good or Doing Well? Image Motivation and Monetary Incentives in Behaving Prosocially," IZA Discussion Papers 2968, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  17. Anthony M. Evans & Kyle D. Dillon & Gideon Goldin & Joachim I. Krueger, 2011. "Trust and self-control: The moderating role of the default," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(7), pages 697-705, October.
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