Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Negative and Positive Commitments

The gambling form of self-exclusion is a negative commitment, a pledge to avoid wagering. Other commitments are positive, resolutions to accomplish something. Of course, these terms are somewhat arbitrary, given that a (negative) commitment to avoid wagering is simultaneously a positive commitment to engage only in non-wagering behavior. But only somewhat arbitrary -- the activities that violate a negative commitment seem to be a much more proscribed set than those that constitute a violation of a positive commitment. All else equal (which is never the case), are positive commitments harder to adhere to than negative ones?

Last week, during spring break, the library at the University of Chicago hosted an institution aimed at providing a positive commitment for graduate students to make progress on their dissertations. (I can't find any web-based info on this so I am relying on my faulty memory.) The students could sign up to take part in a write-in, in which they were more or less locked in the library for four (I think) hours per day. The students, stickK-like, put up $50 that would be forfeited if they did not put in their time. I understand that for some students, at least, the write-in was a success.

A positive commitment to write a thesis is simultaneously a negative commitment not to procrastinate in writing your thesis. (Incidentally, I meant to post this days ago.) But there are so many ways to procrastinate, while the ways to break a negative commitment to avoiding gambling are only those behaviors that involve gambling.

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