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Torn between want and should: Self regulation and behavioral choices

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • May 4, 2020
  • Abhinash Borah,
  • abhinash Borah, Raghvi Garg

We model the behavior of a decision maker (DM) who faces an intrapersonal conflict between what she wants to do (her “want-self”) and what she thinks she should do (her “should-self”). In our model, in any choice problem, the DM first eliminates the worst alternative(s) according to the preferences of her should-self, presumably, as a way of managing the guilt that results from making choices she should not. Then, from the remaining alternatives, she chooses the best one according to the preferences of her want-self. Drawing on Freud, we interpret this choice procedure as reflective of the balancing act that preserving one’s ego requires. Indeed, this balance is key to a DM’s ability to exercise self regulation which our model analyzes in the context of behavioral choices. We characterize the model behaviorally and identify the extent to which the key behavioral parameters can be uniquely identified from choice data.

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