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Cognitive Dissonance, Imperfect Memory and the Preference for Increasing Payments

  • John Smith

    ()

    (Rutgers University-Camden)

In this paper we propose a theory of cognitive dissonance through imperfect memory. Cognitive dissonance is the tendency of a person to engage in self justification after a decision. We offer an interpretation of the single decision cognitive dissonance experiments: an agent has an unknown cost of effort and before the decision receives a private signal of the cost of effort, which is subsequently forgotten. Following the decision, the agent makes an inference regarding the content of this signal based on the publicly available information: the action taken and the wage paid. We explore the implications of this interpretation in a setting requiring a decision of effort in two periods. A preference for increasing payments naturally emerges from our model. With the auxiliary assumption that obtaining wage income requires an unknown cost of effort and obtaining rental income requires a known, zero cost of effort, our results provide an explanation for the experimental findings of Loewenstein and Sicherman (1991). These authors find evidence of stronger preferences for increasing "income from wages" rather than "income from rent." Our model makes the novel prediction that this preference for increasing payments will only occur when the contracts are neither very likely nor very unlikely to cover the cost of effort.

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Paper provided by Rutgers University, Department of Economics in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 200705.

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Length: 20 pages
Date of creation: 15 Aug 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rut:rutres:200705
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  1. Robert J. Oxoby, 2004. "Cognitive dissonance, status and growth of the underclass," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(498), pages 727-749, October.
  2. repec:dgr:uvatin:20060092 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Bénabou, Roland & Tirole, Jean, 2002. "Willpower and Personal Rules," CEPR Discussion Papers 3143, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520.
  5. David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2002. "An Economic Approach to the Psychology of Change: Amnesia, Inertia, and Impulsiveness," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 379-421, 09.
  6. Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "A Memory-Based Model Of Bounded Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 735-774, August.
  7. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1995. "On the Interpretation of Decision Problems with Imperfect Recall," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 324-324, December.
  8. Loewenstein, George F & Sicherman, Nachum, 1991. "Do Workers Prefer Increasing Wage Profiles?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(1), pages 67-84, January.
  9. Gary Gigliotti & Barry Sopher, 1996. "Violations of Present-value Maximization in Income Choice," Departmental Working Papers 199624, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  10. B. Douglas Bernheim & Raphael Thomadsen, 2005. "Memory and Anticipation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(503), pages 271-304, 04.
  11. Smith, John, 2009. "Cognitive dissonance and the overtaking anomaly: Psychology in the principal-agent relationship," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 684-690, August.
  12. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
  13. James Konow, 2000. "Fair Shares: Accountability and Cognitive Dissonance in Allocation Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 1072-1091, September.
  14. Matsumoto, Dawn & Peecher, Mark E. & Rich, Jay S., 2000. "Evaluations of Outcome Sequences," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 331-352, November.
  15. Oxoby, Robert J., 2003. "Attitudes and allocations: status, cognitive dissonance, and the manipulation of attitudes," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 365-385, November.
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