DP15716 Self-Set Goals Are Effective Self-Regulation Tools -- Despite Goal Revision

Author(s): Jonas P. Kaiser, Alexander K Koch, Julia Nafziger
Publication Date: January 2021
Keyword(s): commitment devices, goal revision, Goals, Online Experiment, Present-Biased Preferences, Real effort, Self-Control
JEL(s): D03, D81, D91
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Industrial Organization
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15716

We test in an experiment whether and why non-binding, self-set goals are effective even though individuals can easily revise such goals. Depending on the treatment, subjects either set a goal a few days before working on an online task or right at the start of the task. In the former case, they may or may not be explicitly asked to revise their goal at the start of the task. Consistent with the hypothesis that goals are self-regulation tools, we observe that goals set before the task are larger than goals set at the start of the task. And they are effective: Subjects work more when a goal was set a few days before the task than when it was set at the start of the task. Importantly, these results arise even though subjects revise their initial goals. They do so no matter whether goal revision is made explicit or not -- suggesting that goal revision is an important factor for goal non-achievement.