IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Willpower and the Optimal Control of Visceral Urges

  • Ozdenoren, Emre
  • Salant, Stephen

    (Resources for the Future)

  • Silverman, Dan

Common intuition and experimental psychology suggest that the ability to self-regulate ("willpower") is a depletable resource. We investigate the behavior of an agent with limited willpower who optimally consumes over time an endowment of a tempting and storable consumption good or "cake". We assume that restraining consumption below the most tempting feasible rate requires willpower. Any willpower not used to regulate consumption may be valuable in controlling other urges. Willpower thus links otherwise unrelated behaviors requiring self-control. An agent with limited willpower will display apparent domain-specific time preference. Such an agent will almost never perfectly smooth his consumption, even when it is feasible to do so. Whether the agent relaxes control of his consumption over time (as experimental psychologists predict) or tightens it (as most behavioral theories predict) depends in our model on the net effect of two analytically distinct and opposing forces.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Resources For the Future in its series Discussion Papers with number dp-10-35.

in new window

Date of creation: 06 Jul 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-10-35
Contact details of provider: Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. 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.
  2. Fischer, Carolyn, 1999. "Read This Paper Later: Procrastination with Time-Consistent Preferences," Discussion Papers dp-99-19, Resources For the Future.
  3. Bénabou, Roland & Tirole, Jean, 2002. "Willpower and Personal Rules," CEPR Discussion Papers 3143, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. H. M. Shefrin & Richard Thaler, 1977. "An Economic Theory of Self-Control," NBER Working Papers 0208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Glaeser, Edward & Cutler, David, 2005. "What Explains Differences in Smoking, Drinking, and Other Health Related Behaviors," Scholarly Articles 2664274, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. repec:oup:qjecon:v:112:y:1997:i:2:p:443-77 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & Melonie B. Williams, 2001. "Estimating Individual Discount Rates in Denmark: A Field Experiment," NCEE Working Paper Series 200102, National Center for Environmental Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revised Nov 2001.
  8. Eddie Dekel & Barton L. Lipman & Aldo Rustichini, 2006. "Temptation–Driven Preferences," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2006-024, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  9. Clare Kelly & Gauthier Lanot, 2002. "Consumption Patterns over Pay Periods," Keele Economics Research Papers KERP 2002/14, Centre for Economic Research, Keele University.
  10. Fudenberg, Drew & Levine, David, 2006. "A Dual-Self Model of Impulse Control," Scholarly Articles 3196335, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  11. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2001. "Temptation and Self-Control," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(6), pages 1403-1435, November.
  12. David M. Cutler & Edward Glaeser, 2005. "What Explains Differences in Smoking, Drinking, and Other Health-Related Behaviors?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 238-242, May.
  13. Saul Pleeter & John T. Warner, 2001. "The Personal Discount Rate: Evidence from Military Downsizing Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 33-53, March.
  14. Loewenstein, George & O'Donoghue, Ted, 2004. "Animal Spirits: Affective and Deliberative Processes in Economic Behavior," Working Papers 04-14, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  15. David Laibson, 2001. "A Cue-Theory of Consumption," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 81-119.
  16. Richard J. Gilbert, 1979. "Optimal Depletion of an Uncertain Stock," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 46(1), pages 47-57.
  17. Frank, Robert H. & Hutchens, Robert M., 1993. "Wages, seniority, and the demand for rising consumption profiles," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 251-276, August.
  18. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2004. "Self-Control and the Theory of Consumption," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(1), pages 119-158, 01.
  19. 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.
  20. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin ., 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Economics Working Papers 97-253, University of California at Berkeley.
  21. Loewenstein, George & Thaler, Richard H, 1989. "Intertemporal Choice," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 181-93, Fall.
  22. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:112:y:1997:i:2:p:443-77 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. Léonard,Daniel & Long,Ngo van, 1992. "Optimal Control Theory and Static Optimization in Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521331586.
  24. Benhabib, Jess & Bisin, Alberto & Schotter, Andrew, 2010. "Present-bias, quasi-hyperbolic discounting, and fixed costs," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 205-223, July.
  25. repec:oup:restud:v:74:y:2007:i:1:p:147-172 is not listed on IDEAS
  26. Huffman, David B. & Barenstein, Matias, 2004. "Riches to Rags Every Month? The Fall in Consumption Expenditures Between Paydays," IZA Discussion Papers 1430, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  27. Kniesner Thomas J & Viscusi W. Kip & Ziliak James P, 2006. "Life-Cycle Consumption and the Age-Adjusted Value of Life," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-36, January.
  28. Benhabib, Jess & Bisin, Alberto, 2005. "Modeling internal commitment mechanisms and self-control: A neuroeconomics approach to consumption-saving decisions," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 52(2), pages 460-492, August.
  29. 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.
  30. Ariel Rubinstein, 2003. ""Economics and Psychology"? The Case of Hyperbolic Discounting," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 44(4), pages 1207-1216, November.
  31. Melvin Stephens Jr., 2003. ""3rd of tha Month": Do Social Security Recipients Smooth Consumption Between Checks?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 406-422, March.
  32. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-10-35. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Webmaster)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.