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: 1.87). 11/2011; 96(3):363-85. DOI: 10.1901/jeab.2011.96-363
Source: PubMed


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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    • "Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to determine whether a behavior-based measure of impulsivity correlated with research participation sign-up date. A second reason for examining the course credit practice with a delay discounting task is that studies of delay discounting very often use these course credit contingencies to obtain their data (e.g., Jones & Rachlin, 2009; Radu, Yi, Bickel, Gross, & McClure, 2011; Weatherly, Terrell, & Derenne, 2010). Therefore, the present study was designed to allow for integration into an existing body of work on delay discounting by using a behavioral delay discounting measure instead of a questionnairebased measure, which has more empirical support as a valid indicator of impulsivity. "
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    • "where v indicates the relative involvement of each system in a given decision (McClure, Ericson et al., 2007). Manipulations that prime the recruitment of one system naturally account for differences in intertemporal preferences (Radu et al., 2011). 4 TMS produces noninvasive electromagnetic stimulation of the cortex. "
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    ABSTRACT: Psychological models of temporal discounting have now successfully displaced classical economic theory due to the simple fact that many common behavior patterns, such as impulsivity, were unexplainable with classic models. However, the now dominant hyperbolic model of discounting is itself becoming increasingly strained. Numerous factors have arisen that alter discount rates with no means to incorporate the different influences into standard hyperbolic models. Furthermore, disparate literatures are emerging that propose theoretical constructs that are seemingly independent of hyperbolic discounting. We argue that, although hyperbolic discounting provides an eminently useful quantitative measure of discounting, it fails as a descriptive psychological model of the cognitive processes that produce intertemporal preferences. Instead, we propose that recent contributions from cognitive neuroscience indicate a path for developing a general model of time discounting. New data suggest a means by which neuroscience-based theory may both integrate the diverse empirical data on time preferences and merge seemingly disparate theoretical models that impinge on time preferences.
    Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 01/2013; 99(1):58-73. DOI:10.1002/jeab.6 · 1.87 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Although delay discounting, the attenuation of the value of future rewards, is a robust finding, the mechanism of discounting is not known. We propose a potential mechanism for delay discounting such that discounting emerges from a search process that is trying to determine what rewards will be available in the future. In this theory, the delay dependence of the discounting of future expected rewards arises from three assumptions. First, that the evaluation of outcomes involves a search process. Second, that the value is assigned to an outcome proportionally to how easy it is to find. Third, that outcomes that are less delayed are typically easier for the search process to find. By relaxing this third assumption (e.g. by assuming that episodically-cued outcomes are easier to find), our model suggests that it is possible to dissociate discounting from delay. Our theory thereby explains the empirical result that discounting is slower to episodically-imagined outcomes, because these outcomes are easier for the search process to find. Additionally, the theory explains why improving cognitive resources such as working memory slows discounting, by improving searches and thereby making rewards easier to find. The three assumptions outlined here are likely to be instantiated during deliberative decision-making, but are unlikely in habitual decision-making. We model two simple implementations of this theory and show that they unify empirical results about the role of cognitive function in delay discounting, and make new neural, behavioral, and pharmacological predictions.
    European Journal of Neuroscience 04/2012; 35(7):1052-64. DOI:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2012.08058.x · 3.18 Impact Factor
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