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Temptation at Work: A Field Experiment on Willpower and Productivity

Author

Listed:
  • 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)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandro Bucciol & Daniel Houser & Marco Piovesan, 2009. "Temptation at Work: A Field Experiment on Willpower and Productivity," Working Papers 1013, George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1013
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Emre Ozdenoren & Stephen W. Salant & Dan Silverman, 2012. "Willpower And The Optimal Control Of Visceral Urges," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(2), pages 342-368, April.
    2. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    3. David K. Levine & Drew Fudenberg, 2006. "A Dual-Self Model of Impulse Control," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1449-1476, December.
    4. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2001. "Temptation and Self-Control," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(6), pages 1403-1435, November.
    5. S. Dellavigna., 2011. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 4.
    6. Nicholas Burger & Gary Charness & John Lynham, 2008. "Three Field Experiments on Procrastination and Willpower," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002399, David K. Levine.
    7. Shiv, Baba & Fedorikhin, Alexander, 1999. " Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 278-292, December.
    8. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    9. 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. repec:zur:iewwpx:488 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    willpower; children; temptation; productivity; field experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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