Seminar 218, Psychology and Economics: Revealing temptation through menu choice: A field study

Seminar | March 19 | 2-3:30 p.m. | 648 Evans Hall

 Severine Toussaert, University of Oxford

 Department of Economics

ABSTRACT: In a field study with participants in a weight loss challenge, I use the menu choice approach of Gul and Pesendorfer (2001) to explore the extent to which preference for smaller menus may "reveal" temptation. Focusing on the temptation to eat unhealthy, I elicit participants' preferences over a set of lunch reimbursement options ("the menus"), which differed in the range of foods covered. I extract information from the entire ordering to develop measures of temptation allowing to study its source, strength and structure, and validate those measures with survey data. Finally, I test whether temptation measured through menu choice predicts other behaviors that could be symptomatic of self-control problems, such as take-up of, and performance on, a goal setting contract. I find that choices to restrict the coverage are very common and generally target the foods rated as most tempting and unhealthy. Furthermore, the structure of commitment choices appears largely consistent with the restrictions imposed by the theory. Finally, those who revealed their temptation through menu choice were more likely to take up the contract and less likely to achieve their goals. The elicitation of menu preferences thus offers a promising venue for measuring self-control problems.