Eliciting temptation and self-control through menu choices: a lab experimentRevise & Resubmit: Econometrica, [supplemental appendix] [slides]

Abstract: Unlike present-biased individuals, Gul and Pesendorfer (2001) agents may pay to restrict choice sets despite expecting to resist temptation, thus eliminating self-control costs. I design an experiment to identify these self-control types, where 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, which did or did not allow access to the story. I then implement their preferences using a random mechanism, allowing me 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 preferences. Of those facing the choice, virtually all self-control types behaved as they anticipated and resisted temptation. These findings suggest that policies restricting the availability of tempting options could have much larger welfare benefits than predicted by present bias models.

Cautious Deferral, Indecisiveness and Preference for Flexibilitywith Leonardo Pejsachowicz, Revise & Resubmit: Journal of Economic Theory, [supplemental appendix[slides

Abstract: We introduce a model of menu choice in which a person’s decisions may only partially reveal her innate tastes.The latter are modeled by means of a possibly incomplete (but otherwise rational) preference relation, and the former by a completion of that relation. The two are connected through an axiom formalizing an intuitive rule: “Whenever in doubt, don’t commit; just leave options open.” Under the usual assumptions of the menu choice literature, we find that even the smallest amount of indecisiveness is enough to force the completion, through this deferral property, to exhibit preference for flexibility on its entire domain. Thus we highlight a fundamental tension between non-monotonic preferences, such as preferences for self-control, and tendency to defer choice due to indecisiveness.

Intention-Based Reciprocity and Signaling of IntentionsRevise & Resubmit: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, [supplemental appendix [slides] 

Abstract: Many experiments find that trust intentions are a key determinant of pro-sociality, but ignore the uncertainty pertaining to informal trust agreements. If intentions matter, then trust should depend on whether intentions can be transparently conveyed. This conjecture is formalized and tested in a noisy trust game where I vary the extent to which trust can be credibly signaled. I find that (i) pro-sociality decreases when intentions become noisier; (ii) Subjects are willing to pay to signal their trust. Therefore, not only do intentions count, but players internalize this fact. However, the effect of intentions on individual behavior is highly heterogeneous.

Connecting commitment to self-control: a field experiment with participants in a weight loss challenge, [supplemental appendix] [slides] [survey material] [basic findings]

Abstract: In the context of a weight loss challenge, I use the menu choice approach of Gul and Pesendorfer (2001) to provide new insights on the link between commitment demand and self-control problems. First, I study commitment demand to eat healthy by eliciting participants’ preferences over a set of lunch reimbursement options, which differed in their food coverage. Using information on the entire ordering, I develop menu preference measures of temptation and validate them with survey data. Finally, I investigate whether temptation revealed through menu choice can predict self-control problems in an other domain: commitment to self-set goals pertaining to exercise and participation in the challenge. I find strong evidence of a demand for commitment driven by temptation. First, close to 50% of participants strictly preferred a coverage that excludes the foods they rated as most tempting and unhealthy. Second, temptation revealed through menu choice not only predicts a higher likelihood of commitment to self-set goals but also a lower likelihood of achieving them. The elicitation of menu preferences therefore offers a promising venue for measuring self-control problems.