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Naïve and capricious: Stumbling into the ring of self-control conflict


  • Kristian Ove R. Myrseth

    (ESMT European School of Management and Technology)

  • Conny Wollbrant

    (University of Gothenburg)


We model self-control conflict as a stochastic struggle of an agent against a visceral influence, which impels the agent to act sub-optimally. The agent holds costly pre-commitment technology to avoid the conflict altogether and may decide whether to procure pre-commitment or to confront the visceral influence. We examine naïve expectations for the strength of the visceral influence; underestimating the visceral influence may lead the agent to exaggerate the expected utility of resisting temptation, and so mistakenly forego pre-commitment. Our analysis reveals conditions under which higher willpower – and lower visceral influence – reduces welfare. We further demonstrate that lowering risk aversion could reduce welfare. The aforementioned results call into question certain policy measures aimed at helping people improve their own behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:esm:wpaper:esmt-11-09

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kfir Eliaz & Ran Spiegler, 2006. "Contracting with Diversely Naive Agents," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(3), pages 689-714.
    2. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2001. "Choice and Procrastination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 121-160.
    3. Jack Hirshleifer, 1989. "Conflict and rent-seeking success functions: Ratio vs. difference models of relative success," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 63(2), pages 101-112, November.
    4. Paul Heidhues & Botond Kőszegi, 2009. "Futile Attempts at Self-Control," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 423-434, 04-05.
    5. 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.
    6. Benabou, Roland & Pycia, Marek, 2002. "Dynamic inconsistency and self-control: a planner-doer interpretation," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 77(3), pages 419-424, November.
    7. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    8. 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. Martin G. Kocher & Peter Martinsson & Kristian Ove R. Myrseth & Conny E. Wollbrant, 2017. "Strong, bold, and kind: self-control and cooperation in social dilemmas," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 20(1), pages 44-69, March.
    2. Peter Martinsson & Kristian Ove R. Myrseth & Conny Wollbrant, 2012. "Reconciling pro-social vs. selfish behavior: On the role of self-control," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 7(3), pages 304-315, May.

    More about this item


    self-control; temptation; inter-temporal choice; pre-commitment;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D69 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Other
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General

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