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Taking the New Year’s resolution test seriously: eliciting individuals’ judgements about self-control and spontaneity

Grubiak, Kevin P, Isoni, Andrea, Sugden, Robert, Wang, Mengjie and Zheng, Jiwei 2023. Taking the New Year’s resolution test seriously: eliciting individuals’ judgements about self-control and spontaneity. Behavioural Public Policy 8 (1) , pp. 1-23. 10.1017/bpp.2021.41

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Self-control failure occurs when an individual experiences a conflict between immediate desires and longer-term goals, recognises psychological forces that hinder goal-directed action, tries to resist them but fails in the attempt. Behavioural economists often invoke assumptions about self-control failure to justify proposals for policy interventions. These arguments require workable methods for eliciting individuals’ goals and for verifying occurrences of self-control failure, but developing such methods confronts two problems. First, it is not clear that individuals’ goals are context-independent. Second, facing an actual conflict between a desire and a self-acknowledged goal, a person may consciously choose not to resist the desire, thinking that spontaneity is more important than self-control. We address these issues through an online survey that elicited individuals’ self-reported judgements about the relative importance of self-control and spontaneity in conflicts between enjoyment and health-related goals. To test for context-sensitivity, the judgement-elicitation questions were preceded by a memory recall task which directed participants’ attention either to the enjoyment of acting on desires or to the satisfaction of achieving goals. We found little evidence of context-sensitivity. In both treatments, however, judgements that favoured spontaneity were expressed with roughly the same frequency and strength as judgments that favoured self-control.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISSN: 2398-063X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 February 2022
Date of Acceptance: 17 November 2021
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2024 13:54

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