Now for Me, Later for Us? Effects of Group Context on Temporal Discounting


Correspondence to: Shawn R. Charlton, Department of Psychology & Counseling, University of Central Arkansas, 257 Mashburn Hall, 201 Donaghey, Conway, AR 72034, USA. E-mail:


Delayed rewards are less valuable than immediate rewards. This well-established finding has focused almost entirely on individual outcomes. However, are delayed rewards similarly discounted if they are shared by a group? The current article reports on three experiments exploring the effect of group context on delay discounting. Results indicate that discount rates of individual and group rewards were highly correlated, but that respondents were more willing to wait (decreased discounting) for shared outcomes than for individual outcomes. An explanatory model is proposed suggesting that decreased discount rates in group contexts may be due to the way the effects of both delay and social discounting are combined. That is, in a group context, a person values both a future reward (discounted by delay) and a present reward to another person (discounted by the social distance between them). The results are explained by a combined discount function containing a delay factor and a factor representing the social distance between the decision maker and group members. Practical implications of the fact that shared consequences can increase individual self-control are also discussed. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.