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Checking Out Temptation: An Natural Experiment with Purchases at the Grocery Register

Author

Listed:
  • Daniel Houser

    () (Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, George Mason University)

  • David Reiley

    () (Department of Economics, University of Arizona)

  • Michael Urbancic

    () (Department of Economics, University of California at Berkeley)

Abstract

A long literature in psychology, as well as a more recent theory literature in economics, suggests that prolonged exposure to a tempting stimulus can eventually lead people to "succumb" to that temptation. Here we develop a model for decision under temptation, and test its predictions using data from a natural experiment. We take advantage of naturally occurring, exogenous variation in the amount of time individual consumers spend waiting in grocery store checkout lines. We collect over 2,800 observations from three grocery stores. We obtain robust evidence that time spent in line economically and statistically significantly increases the probability that one purchases a tempting item. For example, people who wait in line 25 percent longer than average are about 17 percent more likely to purchase a tempting item. Moreover, for any fixed time in line, we find that the presence of a child significantly increases the likelihood of a purchase. These results are consistent with models that connect purchasing decisions to temptation, and also suggest that children yield to temptation more rapidly than adults. Our results offer novel quantitative and empirical content to the rapidly expanding economics literature on decisions under temptation.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1001
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    File URL: http://www.gmu.edu/schools/chss/economics/icesworkingpapers.gmu.edu/pdf/1001.pdf
    File Function: Latest version, 2008
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Who Understands Specialization and Trade?
      by Agent Continuum in Agent Continuum on 2010-01-18 22:09:44

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    Cited by:

    1. Sean Crockett & VernonL. Smith & BartJ. Wilson, 2009. "Exchange and Specialisation as a Discovery Process," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(539), pages 1162-1188, July.
    2. repec:eee:jeborg:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:80-94 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. 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.
    4. Bart J. Wilson, 2012. "Contra Private Fairness," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(2), pages 407-435, April.
    5. Cary Deck, 2009. "An experimental analysis of cooperation and productivity in the trust game," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 12(1), pages 1-11, March.
    6. Bart J. Wilson & Taylor Jaworski & Karl E. Schurter & Andrew Smyth, 2012. "The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic History of Whalers' Rules of Capture," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(4), pages 617-656, October.
    7. Lades, Leonhard K., 2014. "Impulsive consumption and reflexive thought: Nudging ethical consumer behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 114-128.
    8. Zhao, Liang & Zhu, Xian Chen, 2007. "A Discussion on Empirical Micro-Bases of Hayek’s Methodological Individualism," MPRA Paper 3862, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. repec:eee:gamebe:v:107:y:2018:i:c:p:329-344 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Taylor Jaworski & Bart J. Wilson, 2013. "Go West Young Man: Self-Selection and Endogenous Property Rights," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 886-904, April.
    11. Dolan, P. & Hallsworth, M. & Halpern, D. & King, D. & Metcalfe, R. & Vlaev, I., 2012. "Influencing behaviour: The mindspace way," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 264-277.
    12. Tyler Watts, 2010. "Arbitrage and knowledge," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 23(1), pages 79-96, March.
    13. D. Pennesi, 2016. "Deciding fast and slow," Working Papers wp1082, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    14. Alessandro Bucciol & Daniel Houser & Marco Piovesan, 2010. "Willpower in children and adults: a survey of results and economic implications," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 57(3), pages 259-267, September.

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