A mechanism for reducing delay discounting by altering temporal attention.

Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (Impact Factor: 1.07). 11/2011; 96(3):363-85. DOI: 10.1901/jeab.2011.96-363
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Rewards that are not immediately available are discounted compared to rewards that are immediately available. The more a person discounts a delayed reward, the more likely that person is to have a range of behavioral problems, including clinical disorders. This latter observation has motivated the search for interventions that reduce discounting. One surprisingly simple method to reduce discounting is an "explicit-zero" reframing that states default or null outcomes. Reframing a classical discounting choice as "something now but nothing later" versus "nothing now but more later" decreases discount rates. However, it is not clear how this "explicit-zero" framing intervention works. The present studies delineate and test two possible mechanisms to explain the phenomenon. One mechanism proposes that the explicit-zero framing creates the impression of an improving sequence, thereby enhancing the present value of the delayed reward. A second possible mechanism posits an increase in attention allocation to temporally distant reward representations. In four experiments, we distinguish between these two hypothesized mechanisms and conclude that the temporal attention hypothesis is superior for explaining our results. We propose a model of temporal attention whereby framing affects intertemporal preferences by modifying present bias.

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