Departmental Papers (Psychology)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

8-2012

Publication Source

Cognition

Volume

124

Issue

2

Start Page

216

Last Page

226

DOI

10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.008

Abstract

A central question in intertemporal decision making is why people reverse their own past choices. Someone who initially prefers a long-run outcome might fail to maintain that preference for long enough to see the outcome realized. Such behavior is usually understood as reflecting preference instability or self-control failure. However, if a decision maker is unsure exactly how long an awaited outcome will be delayed, a reversal can constitute the rational, utility-maximizing course of action. In the present behavioral experiments, we placed participants in timing environments where persistence toward delayed rewards was either productive or counterproductive. Our results show that human decision makers are responsive to statistical timing cues, modulating their level of persistence according to the distribution of delay durations they encounter. We conclude that temporal expectations act as a powerful and adaptive influence on people’s tendency to sustain patient decisions.

Highlights

► Participants decided how long to wait for temporally uncertain rewards. ► The distribution of possible delays determines whether persistence is productive. ► Different conditions, matched for reward rate, required high or low persistence. ► With experience, decision makers appropriately adjusted their willingness to wait. ► Apparent failures of persistence can reflect adaptive temporal judgments.

Copyright/Permission Statement

© 2012. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Keywords

decision making, intertemporal choice, dynamic inconsistency, statistical learning, interval timing

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Date Posted: 06 December 2017

This document has been peer reviewed.