Willpower and Legal Policy
Posted: 4 Jun 2010 Last revised: 6 Jun 2010
Date Written: December 1, 2009
People often act in ways that are inconsistent with their own stated desires. What, if anything, can or should legal policy do about this disjunction? In recent years, legal and social science scholarship has increasingly examined self-control and related concepts. In this review, I discuss the policy implications of this work. I begin by defining willpower, disaggregating it from other, related problems, and considering the terms of the intraself conflict it implies. Drawing on ideas that are well recognized in the literature, I divide the costs of willpower lapses and their prevention into the failure costs of bad decisions, the exercise costs associated with exerting willpower effort, and the erosion costs that individuals and society as a whole might incur over time if willpower is not regularly exercised. After surveying a variety of possible policy responses to self-control problems, I offer some suggestions for future research.
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