Deadlines and Cognitive Limitations – University of Copenhagen

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19 September 2018

Deadlines and Cognitive Limitations

Steffen Altmann presents his work at the IZA World Labor Conference 2018.

Find the IZA working paper here.

Abstract

This paper studies the interplay between deadlines and cognitive limitations. We analyze an agent’s decision to complete a one-off task under a deadline. Postponing the task can be beneficial for the agent; missing the deadline, however, leads to a drop in the agent’s rewards. If the agent exhibits cognitive limitations, postponing increases the risk of becoming inattentive and failing to complete the task in time. Our framework provides a rich set of predictions on the behavioral implications of deadlines. We test these predictions in a field experiment at a dental clinic, in which we exogenously vary deadlines and rewards for arranging check-up appointments. The empirical results underline the behavioral relevance of cognitive limitations. Imposing relatively tight deadlines induces patients to act earlier and at a persistently higher frequency than without a deadline. Evidence from a follow-up experiment and complementary surveys supports the notion that deadlines may serve as a powerful instrument when individuals’ cognitive capacity is limited.