Econometrica: May 2018, Volume 86, Issue 3

Eliciting Temptation and Self-Control Through Menu Choices: a Lab Experiment

DOI: 10.3982/ECTA14172
p. 859-889

Séverine Toussaert

Unlike present‐biased individuals, agents who suffer self‐control costs as in Gul and Pesendorfer, 2001 may choose to restrict their choice set even when they expect to resist temptation. To identify these self‐control types, I design an experiment in which the temptation was to read a story during a tedious task. The identification strategy relies on a two‐step procedure. First, I measure commitment demand by eliciting subjects' preferences over menus that did or did not allow access to the story. I then implement preferences using a random mechanism, allowing to observe subjects who faced the choice yet preferred commitment. A quarter to a third of subjects can be classified as self‐control types according to their menu preferences. When confronted with the choice, virtually all of them behaved as they anticipated and resisted temptation. These findings suggest that policies restricting the availability of tempting options could have larger welfare benefits than predicted by standard models of present bias.

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Supplement to "Eliciting Temptation and Self-Control Through Menu Choices: a Lab Experiment"

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