Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effect of Self-Control Resource on Risk Preference

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effect of Self-Control Resource on Risk Preference

Article excerpt

Individuals' self-control resource (SCR) determines the strength of their self-control, which affects risk preference in risky choice decision making. However, the role of SCR in evaluating risk preference is poorly understood. I designed 2 studies consisting of a laboratory experiment in which participants were required to choose from 2 options in each of 4 risky-choice scenarios, to examine how variance in individuals' SCR level affected their risk preference. Results indicated that individuals showed a stronger risk preference when they had a higher SCR level than when their SCR level was lower and that they showed less risk preference when their level of SCR was depleted. In accordance with these findings, I investigated the mechanisms of SCR level and variance and discussed the role of SCR in risky choice decision making.

Keywords: self-control resource, self-control resource depletion, risk preference, dual-task paradigm, risky choice.

In their daily lives, people plan their actions, such as buying lottery tickets, investing money in a project, or buying a house, with the objective of receiving a preferred benefit. This always involves a calculation of risk, because there are different costs and reward benefits in these activities. When facing these scenarios, people can exert self-control to manage the risk of their behaviors, thereby allowing them to make appropriate decisions. Thus, individuals' self-control can affect their risk preference in risky choice decision making.

The choice between a certain option (e.g., 100% chance of receiving US$65) and an uncertain option (e.g., 50% chance of receiving US$168) is defined as risky choice (Chen & He, 2011). Risk preference refers to the attitude people have toward risk, and is a matter of preferences. Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky (1982) and Berns, Laibson, and Loewenstein (2007) investigated the role of self-control in risky choice, and found that people with greater self-control preferred to take a risk (high risk preference), whereas those with less self-control preferred not to take a risk. However, the mechanism of how an individual's self-control (high or low level, enhanced or depleted) can affect risk preference is still unclear.

Self-control is considered to be a personal process involving a set of skills, and as such, difficult to manipulate in a laboratory environment (Baumeister, 2002). To successfully manipulate self-control, Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, and Tice (1998) proposed the strength model of self-control. They defined self-control as a type of limited self-control resource (SCR), like muscular energy, in that the strength of self-control is determined by SCR. Hagger, Wood, Stiff, and Chatzisarantis (2010) in their meta-analysis, ascertained that an individual's SCR is depleted by overuse, resulting in ego depletion and poor performance in consecutive self-control tasks. Results of Chinese studies conducted by Sun (2008) and Dou (2013) indicated that Chinese participants also showed SCR depletion after finishing an SCR manipulation task. However, in an exploratory experiment on SCR and ego depletion, I found that individuals' SCR levels vary naturally and that finishing an SCR manipulation task affected individual participants' SCR level differently. Specifically, some participants showed depleted SCR and others showed enhanced SCR. Thus, I theorized that individuals' risk preference would be influenced by their SCR level at the onset of the manipulation task and also by the variance in individual SCR levels.

Individual SCR Level Differences and Risk Preference

Hofmann, Vohs, and Baumeister (2012) pointed out that individuals' SCR levels might be influenced by a wide range of daily activities and temptations, such as the enticement of icecream when one is on a diet. If an individual's SCR is, indeed, a limited psychological resource, it seems likely that SCR level will differ from one individual to another and also within each individual at different points in time. …

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