Departmental Papers (Psychology)

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Journal Article

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American Economic Review





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Existing behavioral studies of intertemporal choice suggest that both human and animal choosers are impulsive. One possible explanation for this is that they discount future gains in a hyperbolic or quasi-hyperbolic fashion (David I. Laibson 1997; Shane Frederick, George Loewenstein, and Ted O’Donoghue 2002). This observation stands in contrast to standard normative theory, which predicts exponential discounting for any single maximizing agent (Robert H. Strotz 1956). This disparity between empirical and normative approaches is typically explained by proposing that human choosers suffer from inner conflict, balancing an impulse for an immediate gratification against other forces calling for delayed gratification (Richard H. Thaler and H. M. Shefrin 1981; Laibson 1997; Drew Fudenberg and David K. Levine 2006; Jess Benhabib and Alberto Bisin 2005; B. Douglas Bernheim and Antonio Rangel 2004; Faruk Gul and Wolfgang Pesendorfer 2001). We hoped to better understand both the behavioral and algorithmic roots of this phenomenon by conducting a series of behavioral and neurobiological experiments on intertemporal choice. The results of our behavioral experiments deviate significantly from the predictions of both normative and inner conflict models. The results of our neurobiological experiments provide new algorithmic insights into the mechanisms of intertemporal choice.

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Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by the American Economic Association. Published with the permission of the American Economic Association.

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Date Posted: 08 December 2017

This document has been peer reviewed.