Excuse Driven Present Bias


We test whether people behave in a more present-biased way when they can excuse such behavior. We run two experiments, one on the Amazon Mechanical Turk and one with students in Luxembourg, to elicit subjects’ willingness to work (WTW) today and at a future date. We elicit this WTW against an alternative that provides no excuses and one that provides an excuse: while the no-excuse alternative always requires to work, the excuse alternative adds a 10% chance of not having to do extra work. In the first experiment, we find that the WTW today drops by 0.11 more than the WTW in two days when we move from the no-excuse to the excuse alternative, as if the excuse alternative was worth more when it allows avoiding working today. This result cannot be explained by risk and time preferences that do not depend on other alternatives present. In the second experiment, we test another potential excuse besides risk: a different type of task. The results do not support that a different task would act as an excuse for postponing work. For the chance of not having to do work in the future, we get non-significant results that nevertheless point in the same direction as the MTurk results. We discuss both experiments and describe a planned follow-up study with the goal of replicating our finding with excuses based on risk.