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Temptation at Work: A Field Experiment on Willpower and Productivity

  • Alessandro Bucciol

    ()

    (Department of General Economics, University of Amsterdam, Netspar, and Department of Economics, University of Verona)

  • Daniel Houser

    ()

    (Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science and Department of Economics, George Mason University)

  • Marco Piovesan

    ()

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

Temptations are a largely unavoidable part of life. Resisting them is usually seen as a virtuous behavior. Recent research in social psychology, however, suggests that using willpower to delay gratification can detrimentally impact performance on immediately subsequent tasks. Using standard economic theory, we develop a model connecting willpower to productivity. When delaying gratification is difficult, the model predicts exposure to a tempting good detrimentally impacts productivity, while when delaying gratification is easy, exposure to temptation can lead to productivity gains. We then report data from a field experiment with children of different ages. Since the research in child development has established that younger children have difficulty delaying gratification, while after age 10 children become skilled at doing so, we exploited this exogenous variation to test the predictions of our model. Our results suggest that a prohibited temptation affects work productivity in a way consistent with theory: it is negative for the youngest children (aged under 8) and positive for the oldest (aged above 10). We also observe a significantly different impact by gender. It thus seems that prohibiting a temptation needs not eliminate its impact on productivity, a result of importance to anyone interested in designing policies to promote efficiency.

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File URL: http://www.gmu.edu/schools/chss/economics/icesworkingpapers.gmu.edu/pdf/1013.pdf
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Paper provided by George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science in its series Working Papers with number 1013.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1013
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  1. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin ., 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Economics Working Papers 97-253, University of California at Berkeley.
  2. Drew Fudenberg & David K Levine, 2005. "A Dual Self Model of Impulse Control," Levine's Working Paper Archive 618897000000000876, David K. Levine.
  3. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Emre Ozdenoren & Stephen Salant & Dan Silverman, 2006. "Willpower and the Optimal Control of Visceral Urges," NBER Working Papers 12278, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. W. Pesendorfer & F. Gul, 1999. "Temptation and Self-Control," Princeton Economic Theory Papers 99f1, Economics Department, Princeton University.
  7. Nicholas Burger & Gary Charness & John Lynham, 2008. "Three Field Experiments on Procrastination and Willpower," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002399, David K. Levine.
  8. Stefano DellaVigna, 2007. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," NBER Working Papers 13420, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Kathleen D. Vohs & Ronald J. Faber, 2007. "Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(4), pages 537-547, 01.
  10. Shiv, Baba & Fedorikhin, Alexander, 1999. " Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(3), pages 278-92, December.
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