Self-Control and Altruism

University dissertation from University of Gothenburg

Abstract: This thesis consists of two theoretical papers on self-control (Chapters 1-2) and four empirical papers (3-6) of which two (Chapter 5 and 6) explore determinants of pro-social behavior, while the other two (Chapters 3-4) examine the relationship between self-control and prosocial behavior. (1) “A Theory of Self-Control-Conflict: The Pyrrhic Motions of Reason and Passion.” (with Kristian Ove R. Myrseth). We model self-control conflict as a struggle between an agent and a visceral influence, which impels the agent to act against her better nterest. The agent holds pre-commitment technology to avoid the conflict altogether, though at a cost. The agent’s decision to face down temptation, to pre-commit, or to succumb without resisting is determined by three factors: (1) the payoff from the goal, (2) the strength of the temptation, and (3) willpower. We consider implications from the agent (1) underestimating the anticipated visceral influence and (2) overestimating her stock of willpower. Underestimating the anticipated visceral influence may lead the agent to exaggerate the expected value of resisting temptation, and so mistakenly forego pre-commitment. Overestimating her stock of willpower may lead to a similar result. Finally, a welfare analysis yields the counterintuitive prediction that higher willpower under certain circumstances reduces welfare. (2) “Self-Control in Games.” People are often tempted to deviate from their optimal strategies. A situation reflecting such interference by temptation is defined as a self-control game where each player consists of two cognition types. One type generates biases in decision making by producing visceral influences. In contrast, another cognition type can ameliorate visceral influences by exercising self-control. The set of outcomes reflecting perfect self-control are called "self-control equilibria" and is equal to the set of subgame perfect Nash equilibria. In contrast, the set of "temptation equilibria" reflects imperfect self-control and is a superset if will-power is "high enough." We explore implications for several instances of social interaction when players are altruists tempted to be greedy. (3) “Reconciling Pro-Social vs. Selfish Behavior: Evidence for the Role of Self-Control.” (with Peter Martinsson and Kristian Ove R. Myrseth). We test the proposition that individuals may experience a self-control conflict between short-term temptation to be selfish and better judgment to act pro-socially. Using a public goods game and a dictator game, we manipulated the likelihood that individuals identified self-control conflict, and we measured their trait ability to implement self-control strategies. Consistent with our hypothesis, we find that trait self-control exhibits a positive and significant correlation with pro-social behavior in the treatment that raises likelihood of conflict identification, but not in the treatment that reduces likelihood of conflict identification. (4) “Conditional Cooperation and Self-Control.” (with Peter Martinsson and Kristian Ove R. Myrseth) When facing the opportunity to act either in self-interest or in the interest of others, individuals may experience a self-control conflict between pro-social preferences and urges to act selfishly. We explore the domain of conditional contribution, and we test the hypothesis that an increase in an individual’s belief about others’ average contribution increases contributions more when her willpower is high than when it is low. We employ a subtle framing technique and the strategy method in a public goods experiment. Consistent with our hypothesis, we find that conditionally cooperative behavior is stronger when beliefs of high contributions are accompanied by high rather than low levels of selfcontrol. (5) “Conditional Cooperation and Social Group – Experimental Results from Colombia.” (with Peter Martinsson and Clara Inés Villegas Palacio) In contrast to previous studies on cross-group comparisons of conditional cooperation, this study keeps cross- and within-country dimensions constant. The results reveal significantly different cooperation behavior between social groups in the same location. (6) “The Role of Beliefs, Trust, and Risk Preferences in Contributions to a Public Good.” (with Martin Kocher, Peter Martinsson, and Dominik Matzat) This paper experimentally investigates the role of beliefs, trust, and risk preferences in shaping cooperative behavior. By using a linear public goods game and the strategy method for revealing conditional contribution schedules, we categorize subjects into different types of contributors. Our results support the notion that beliefs about others’ behavior and trust are positively associated with cooperation while risk preferences do not seem to matter.

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