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We examine strategic self-ignorance—the use of ignorance as an excuse to over-indulge in pleasurable activities that may be harmful to one’s future self. Our model shows that guilt aversion provides a behavioral rationale for present-biased agents to avoid information about negative future impacts of such activities. We then confront our model with data from an experiment using prepared, restaurant-style meals—a good that is transparent in immediate pleasure (taste) but non-transparent in future harm (calories). Our results support the notion that strategic self-ignorance matters: nearly three of five subjects (58%) chose to ignore free information on calorie content, leading at-risk subjects to consume significantly more calories. We also find evidence consistent with our model on the determinants of strategic self-ignorance.
KeywordsStrategic ignorance Calorie information avoidance Guilt aversion Self-control
JEL ClassificationD03 D81 D83
We thank David Granlund for helpful comments and suggestions, and seminar participants at the FOI, University of Copenhagen, and participants at the AAEA Annual Meeting 2012. Financial support is gratefully acknowledged from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, the Swedish Retail and Wholesale Development Council, and University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Global Perspectives Funds. The collection of data from human subjects for this study has been approved by the Ethics Committee at Lund University. We thank Carin Blom for excellent research assistance.
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