Saturday, December 05, 2015

Summary of the Workshop on the Behavioural Science of Self-Control

Thanks everybody for attending our SIRE workshop on the "Behavioural Science of Self-Control" on Friday December 4th! We had fantastic presentations from world-leading economic and psychological self-control researchers and engaged in extremely interesting discussions about how economics and psychology can interact and benefit from each other.

For aims and scope of the workshop have a look here.

Some more subjective information about the talks and pictures are below (thanks Jodie Quigley for taking excellent notes and Craig Anderson for taking pictures). Details of future workshops can be found here and by following our twitter account.


Leonhard Lades on Present Bias and Everyday Self-Control Failures: A Day Reconstruction Study (with Liam Delaney)

After welcoming the workshop participants to Stirling and introducing the topic of the day, Leonhard talked about a paper co-authored with Liam Delaney that aims to compare and integrate economic and psychological approaches to self-control. The study's methodological innovation is the use of the Day Reconstruction Method in order to measure temptation and self-control as it occurs in everyday life. The main results of the paper are that economic measures of present bias do not predict everyday temptations and everyday self-control, but psychological measures of trait temptation and trait self-control do.

The working paper can be found here.

Kirsten Rohde on Measuring Decreasing Impatience

Kirsten presented a novel measure of decreasing impatience called the DI index as an economic measure for dynamic inconsistencies underlying self-control failures. Main advantages of the index are that it provides information about individual differences in changing impatience without relying on (i) assumptions about utility and the curvature of the utility function and (ii) degrees (not changes) of impatience. This is particularly relevant in domains where utility functions are far from linear or difficult to measure. We discussed interesting applications of the index to measure decreasing impatience in non-monetary domains such as health.

The working paper can be found here.

Siegfried Dewitte on Behavioral Vaccination and Paling Temptations
Siegfried suggested that there are three different means by which self-control failures can be avoided: (i) increasing self-control, (ii) removing temptation, or (iii) paling temptations. He presented his research on paling temptations in order to reduce their effect on behaviour. In several studies he and co-authors showed that pre-exposing study participants to tempting stimuli can reduce consumption of the tempting goods some time later. He suggested three different mechanisms that might explain this paling effect (habituation, cognitive dissonance, and cognitive control) and showed evidence that is consistent with cognitive control but not with the other two mechanisms. We discussed opportunities to apply the insights in the real world, for example in nudge-type interventions.

Many of the papers Siegfried referred to can be found here.

Michael Daly on Self-Control, Time Preferences, and Health and Well-Being Across the Lifespan

Michael presented a summary of his recent Future Leader work on childhood self-control predicting economic success, health behaviour, health, and subjective well-being. He made the point that self-control is strongly related to many important economic and psychological life outcomes which warrants the attention devoted to self-control in behavioural science. He focused on his work using two large scale British Cohort Studies (BCS and NCDS) and showed in several pathway analyses why childhood self-control predicts economic outcomes and health. For example, individuals with low childhood self-control are 14 percentage points more likely to smoke in later life than individuals with high childhood self-control. In order to organise his various insights, he discussed his thoughts on building a lifespan model of the effects of self-control throughout life. 
Michael's Future Leaders project can be found here

Charlie Sprenger Judging Experimental Evidence on Dynamic Inconsistency

Charlie presented his view on how economic designs that elicit dynamically inconsistent choices changed in the last 5 years and might change in the future. In order to improve the measurement of dynamic inconsistencies he suggested to be aware of various confounding factors such as arbitrage opportunities, background consumption, payment reliability, and transaction costs. He highlighted that longitudinal designs should be used to really measure dynamic inconsistencies instead of measuring hallmarks of it. He suggested to more often use non-monetary rewards to elicit dynamic inconsistencies – without claiming that monetary discounting paradigms are useless. He focused on the demand for commitment which is the economically most relevant aspect of dynamically inconsistent preferences. As an example of a measurement of dynamic inconsistency in the domain of food with a potential for self-commitment, he presented some recent findings from a consumption study in a “food desert”. 

Charlie's homepage can be found here

Wilhelm Hofmann "On Integrating the Components of Self-Control"
Wilhelm presented key findings from the Everyday Temptation Study to motivate the conceptual framework he suggested afterwards. In the conceptual framework he organised various psychological processes that induce or prevent self-control failures, and showed how they might interact with enactment constraints in the individuals’ environments. For each of the components of self-control, he presented determinants of self-control failure and potential avenues for intervention. The framework suggests, for example, to differentiate between interventions that reduce (the strength of) temptations and interventions that increase the motivation and ability to use self-control in the face of temptations. He highlighted that self-control is not a unitary phenomenom, but that there are many routes to self-control failure and success and hence many soft spots for intervention. 

Wilhelm's publication page is here


The final discussion dealt with various important topics related to self-control research, some of it on the edge of economics and psychology. It was mentioned that a stronger focus on similarities of (rather than differences between) the economics and the psychology of self-control would be beneficial in order to communicate effectively across disciplines. As one of the key problems for self-control research in the future as well as potential policy interventions, we identified the potential for preferences to change over time. If preferences change independent of self-control failures, it feels uncomfortable to some panel members to push people to make certain decisions, for example by enacting constraints on them. If, however, the constraints are put in place by the individuals themselves – in the sense of commitment devices – less ethical problems were mentioned. We discussed whether self-control is unambiguously good and how the existence of self-control failures can provide a reason for paternalistic policy intervention. Also the inherent value of being able to make autonomous, unconstrained decision was discussed in relation to commitment devices. A repeating theme was the difference between resisting temptations and avoiding temptations, for example by using commitment devices. A related blog post can be found here

The Court Room was packed and discussions did not stop during coffee and lunch breaks.

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