The Science of Self-Control
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This book proposes a new science of self-control based on the principles of behavioral psychology and economics. Claiming that insight and self-knowledge are insufficient for controlling one's behavior, Howard Rachlin argues that the only way to achieve such control--and ultimately happiness--is through the development of harmonious patterns of behavior.
Most personal problems with self-control arise because people have difficulty delaying immediate gratification for a better future reward. The alcoholic prefers to drink now. If she is feeling good, a drink will make her feel better. If she is feeling bad, a drink will make her feel better. The problem is that drinking will eventually make her feel worse. This sequence--the consistent choice of a highly valued particular act (such as having a drink or a smoke) that leads to a low-valued pattern of acts--is called "the primrose path."
To avoid it, the author presents a strategy of "soft commitment," consisting of the development of valuable patterns of behavior that bridge over individual temptations. He also proposes, from economics, the concept of the substitutability of "positive addictions," such as social activity or exercise, for "negative addictions," such as drug abuse or overeating.
Self-control may be seen as the interaction with one's own future self. Howard Rachlin shows that indeed the value of the whole--of one's whole life--is far greater than the sum of the values of its individual parts.
Walter is available at any time of the day or night. Whenever John feels the need for a drink, he can call Walter and discuss his urges. The help is not so much what Walter says as his comforting and approving presence. John slips a few times, but Walter is completely understanding. Once, at a critical time, Walter got dressed in the middle of the night, came over, and the two men talked for hours, not necessarily about alcoholism, but about life in general. John feels closer to Walter than he
complete addiction. In other words, the person could be following Herrnstein and Prelec’s (1992) primrose path. stable and bistable conditions. Figure 4.2 illustrates conditions where lines AD and BC are parallel—where price habituation occurs at the same rate as price sensitization. But, as previously discussed, the two processes need not correspond in this way. Let us now reconsider the stable and bistable conditions illustrated at the end of the previous chapter (Figures 3.9 and 3.10). These
second, through the experience to which the rule refers.2 But the rule that has been so useful up to now has its downside: it retards adaptability to new situations. Rules and Probability 133 An experiment at Stony Brook by Kudadjie-Gyamfi (1998) illustrates this type of study. Recall from Chapter 5 the procedure used by KudadjieGyamfi and Rachlin (1996), in which human subjects made choices by pressing button X or Y. A subject in that experiment would maximize overall earnings by always
firm’s president is more likely to press for keeping the branch open (especially if his or her name is over the door). These officers embody, respectively, the firm’s short-term and long-term interests (Northcraft and Wolf, 1984). If we treat the firm as analogous to an individual, the sunk cost problem is a problem of self-control. As in any selfcontrol problem, there is no inherently right or wrong answer. Because the benefits of sticking to a prior decision are difficult to measure, and
(1−p); if the subjected defected, the computer defected with a probability equal to p and cooperated with a probability equal to (1 − p). Thus, the probability of reciprocation, implicit in Brown’s experiments, was explicit and signaled by a discriminative stimulus in Baker’s experiment. There were five groups of subjects, each with a given probability of reciprocation: p = 1, .75, .50, .25, 0. With p = 1, the computer was playing tit for tat. If the subject cooperated on a given trial, the