Project in detail

Instant gratification and self control in an experiment with children and teenagers

Members of this project:

We observe school children's preferences over time in a food choice experiment slightly modified from that of Read and van Leeuwen (Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 1998). We examine the behavior of individuals aged between 6 and 18 in order to evaluate how time-related preferences evolve with age. In contrast to existing literature dealing with changing discount rates over the life cycle we do not ask for preferences between hypothetical payoffs but offer tangible choices in the form of Smarties (small sugar-coated chocolate sweets) and apples. The pupils are to choose between the healthy and the unhealthy food item on two consecutive days. On the first day they are to state their preference regarding the following day's consumption, while on the second day they may pick a food item for immediate consumption. We find that most of the 6- to 7-year-olds consistently choose chocolate for both future and immediate consumption. With pupils aged 8 to 12 an increase in time-inconsistent behavior – pupils naively planning to consume an apple the next day and then choosing chocolate for immediate consumption – can be observed. From age 14 on, a larger share of pupils is sophisticated in the sense that they plan to and actually do consume an apple in most cases. In accordance with the literature, we observe that girls change their minds more often. This project is conducted in cooperation with Dr. Carsten Schmidt (University of Mannheim) and financed through Collaborative Research Center 504 on "Rationality Concepts, Decision Behavior, and Economic Modeling" of the German Research Foundation (DFG). The working paper has been submitted for publication.

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