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Temptation and commitment in the laboratory

Daniel Houser (), Daniel Schunk (), Joachim Winter and Erte Xiao ()

Munich Reprints in Economics from University of Munich, Department of Economics

Abstract: We report data from a novel laboratory experiment on economic decisions under persistent temptations. This type of temptation is ubiquitous, as it refers to any temptation that is present until one either gives in or makes a costly commitment decision to have it removed. Subjects in our experiment are repeatedly offered an option with instantaneous benefit that also entails a substantial reduction to overall earnings. We show that this option is tempting in the sense that a substantial fraction of our subjects incur pecuniary costs to eliminate the choice, and thus commit not to choose this alternative. We find that commitment and giving in to temptation generally occur at the first opportunity, though a non-negligible fraction of subjects delay either making the commitment decision or giving in to temptation. This delay is consistent with the costs of self-control increasing with its use.

Date: 2018
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Published in Games and Economic Behavior 107(2018): pp. 329-344

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