Willpower and personal rules

Roland Bénabou*, Jean Tirole

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

264 Scopus citations


We develop a theory of internal commitments or "personal rules" based on self-reputation over one's willpower, which transforms lapses into precedents that undermine future self-restraint. The foundation for this mechanism is the imperfect-recall of past motives and feelings, leading people to draw inferences from their past actions. The degree of self-control an individual can achieve is shown to rise with his self-confidence and decrease with prior external constraints. On the negative side, individuals may adopt excessively rigid rules that result in compulsive behaviors such as miserliness, workaholism, or anorexia. We also study the cognitive basis of self-regulation, showing how it is constrained by the extent to which self-monitoring is subject to opportunistic distortions of memory or attribution, and how rules for information processing can themselves be maintained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)848-886
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Political Economy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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