We test whether experimentally elicited present bias predicts self-control problems in everyday life. Present bias is the economist’s favorite explanation for self-control problems, and various studies elicit present bias in monetary delay discounting tasks in order to obtain a measure of individual self-control. However, monetary delay discounting tasks have come under attack and the link between present bias and self-control has not yet been empirically established. Combining the day reconstruction method with recent advances in psychological self-control research, we elicit everyday temptations, self-control, and self-control failures. We find that present bias does not predict everyday self-control problems, but a psychological trait self-control measure does. The results point to a distinction between decreasing impatience and visceral influences as determinants of self-control failures. The results can also explain why recent studies find no or only weak empirical associations between present bias and various economic behaviors. We further develop the method to examine experienced utility in the context of different decision environments and outline a range of new empirical measures of welfare in naturalistic settings.
Liam Delaney is SIRE Professor of Economics at the Scottish Institute for Research in Economics and Stirling University and Director of the Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics PhD programme. Previously, he was Deputy Director and a senior researcher in the UCD Geary Institute, and a lecturer holding a tenured appointment with the UCD School of Public Health and Population Science and the UCD School of Economics. He lectured econometrics, health economics and behavioural economics in University College Dublin and supervised post-graduate students in economics and public health. In 2009, he received the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland's Barrington Medal. He was a 2010 Fulbright Fellow and Center for Health and Well-Being fellow at Princeton University.