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Willpower and the Optimal Control of Visceral Urges

  • Emre Ozdenoren
  • Steve Salant
  • Dan Silverman

Common intuition and experimental psychology suggest that the ability to self-regulate, willpower, is a depletable resource. We investigate the behavior of an agent who optimally consumes a cake (or paycheck or workload) over time and who recognizes that restraining his consumption too much would exhaust his willpower and leave him unable to manage his consumption. Unlike prior models of self-control, a model with willpower depletion can explain the increasing consumption sequences observable in high frequency data (and corresponding laboratory findings), the apparent links between unrelated self-control behaviors, and the altered economic behavior following imposition of cognitive loads. At the same time, willpower depletion provides an alternative explanation for a taste for commitment, intertemporal preference reversals, and procrastination. Accounting for willpower depletion thus provides a more unified theory of time preference. It also provides an explanation for anomalous intratemporal behaviors such as low correlations between health-related activities.

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Paper provided by David K. Levine in its series Levine's Working Paper Archive with number 784828000000000034.

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Date of creation: 14 May 2005
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Handle: RePEc:cla:levarc:784828000000000034
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  1. Eddie Dekel & Barton L. Lipman & Aldo Rustichini, 2009. "Temptation-Driven Preferences," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(3), pages 937-971.
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  26. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521337465 is not listed on IDEAS
  27. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  28. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2004. "Addiction and Cue-Triggered Decision Processes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1558-1590, December.
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