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

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. Moreover, an individual's SCR level may fluctuate according to the time of day (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996). Thus, when two alternatives are equally attractive in risky choice, individuals whose SCR level is high may be better able to exert self-control to handle risk and, thus, would exhibit a stronger preference than others for choosing the higher risk alternative. Thus, I proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: SCR level will be associated with risk preference such that individuals with a high SCR level will exhibit a higher risk preference whereas individuals with a low SCR level will exhibit a lower risk preference.

Individual Variation in SCR Level and Risk Preference

Bruyneel, Dewitte, Franses, and Dekimpe (2009), Freeman and Muraven (2010), and Price and Yates (2010) found by using monetary scenarios, the Choice Dilemma Questionnaire (CDQ), the Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART), and mathematical computation tasks of varying difficulty, that, compared with a nondepleted SCR group, depleted SCR participants showed a higher risk preference. …

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