Decision makers calibrate behavioral persistence on the basis of time-interval experience

Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Cognition (Impact Factor: 3.63). 04/2012; 124(2):216-26. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.008
Source: PubMed

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.

11 Reads
  • Source
    • ", McClure et al . , 2014 ; McGuire & Kable , 2012 , 2013 ; Rubia , Halari , Christakou , & Taylor , 2009 ; Wittmann & Paulus , 2008 ) . Impulsive choice as a function of delay is well accounted for by a hyperbolic discounting function ( e . "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Impulsive choice behavior incorporates the psychological mechanisms involved in the processing of the anticipated magnitude and delay until reward. The goal of the present experiment was to determine whether individual differences in such processes related to individual differences in impulsive choice behavior. Two groups of rats (Delay Group and Magnitude Group) were initially exposed to an impulsive choice task with choices between smaller-sooner (SS) and larger-later (LL) rewards. The Delay Group was subsequently exposed to a temporal discrimination task followed by a progressive interval task, whereas the Magnitude Group was exposed to a reward magnitude sensitivity task followed by a progressive ratio task. Intertask correlations revealed that the rats in the Delay Group that made more self-controlled (LL) choices also displayed lower standard deviations in the temporal bisection task and greater delay tolerance in the progressive interval task. Impulsive choice behavior in the Magnitude Group did not display any substantial correlations with the reward magnitude sensitivity and progressive ratio tasks. The results indicate the importance of core timing processes in impulsive choice behavior, and encourage further research examining the effects of changes in core timing processes on impulsive choice.
    Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 07/2014; 102(1). DOI:10.1002/jeab.88 · 1.87 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Children are notoriously bad at delaying gratification to achieve later, greater rewards (e.g., Piaget, 1970)-and some are worse at waiting than others. Individual differences in the ability-to-wait have been attributed to self-control, in part because of evidence that long-delayers are more successful in later life (e.g., Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990). Here we provide evidence that, in addition to self-control, children's wait-times are modulated by an implicit, rational decision-making process that considers environmental reliability. We tested children (M=4;6, N=28) using a classic paradigm-the marshmallow task (Mischel, 1974)-in an environment demonstrated to be either unreliable or reliable. Children in the reliable condition waited significantly longer than those in the unreliable condition (p<0.0005), suggesting that children's wait-times reflected reasoned beliefs about whether waiting would ultimately pay off. Thus, wait-times on sustained delay-of-gratification tasks (e.g., the marshmallow task) may not only reflect differences in self-control abilities, but also beliefs about the stability of the world.
    Cognition 10/2012; 126(1). DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.08.004 · 3.63 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: An important category of seemingly maladaptive decisions involves failure to postpone gratification. A person pursuing a desirable long-run outcome may abandon it in favor of a short-run alternative that has been available all along. Here we present a theoretical framework in which this seemingly irrational behavior emerges from stable preferences and veridical judgments. Our account recognizes that decision makers generally face uncertainty regarding the time at which future outcomes will materialize. When timing is uncertain, the value of persistence depends crucially on the nature of a decision maker's prior temporal beliefs. Certain forms of temporal beliefs imply that a delay's predicted remaining length increases as a function of time already waited. In this type of situation, the rational, utility-maximizing strategy is to persist for a limited amount of time and then give up. We show empirically that people's explicit predictions of remaining delay lengths indeed increase as a function of elapsed time in several relevant domains, implying that temporal judgments offer a rational basis for limiting persistence. We then develop our framework into a simple working model and show how it accounts for individual differences in a laboratory task (the well-known "marshmallow test"). We conclude that delay-of-gratification failure, generally viewed as a manifestation of limited self-control capacity, can instead arise as an adaptive response to the perceived statistics of one's environment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
    Psychological Review 03/2013; 120(2). DOI:10.1037/a0031910 · 7.97 Impact Factor
Show more


11 Reads
Available from