Revealing temptation through menu choice: a field study

In the context of a weight loss challenge, I use the menu choice approach of Gul and Pesendorfer (2001) to provide new insights on the link between commitment and temptation. First, I study commitment to eating healthy by eliciting participants’ preferences over a set of lunch reimbursement options, which differed in their food coverage. Extracting information from the entire ordering, I develop measures of temptation to study its source, strength and structure,and validate those measures with survey data. Finally, I test whether temptation revealed through menu choice can predict other behaviors that could be symptomatic of self-control problems, such as take-up of, and performance on, a goal setting contract. In this rich environment, I find a tight link between commitment and temptation. First, nearly 50% of participants strictly preferred a coverage that excluded the foods they rated as most tempting and unhealthy. Second, 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.

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