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Keywords:

  • Psychology;
  • Decision making;
  • Human experimentation;
  • Mathematical modeling;
  • Intertemporal choice;
  • Hyperbolic discounting

Abstract

Models of intertemporal choice draw on three evaluation rules, which we compare in the restricted domain of choices between smaller sooner and larger later monetary outcomes. The hyperbolic discounting model proposes an alternative-based rule, in which options are evaluated separately. The interval discounting model proposes a hybrid rule, in which the outcomes are evaluated separately, but the delays to those outcomes are evaluated in comparison with one another. The tradeoff model proposes an attribute-based rule, in which both outcomes and delays are evaluated in comparison with one another: People consider both the intervals between the outcomes and the compensations received or paid over those intervals. We compare highly general parametric functional forms of these models by means of a Bayesian analysis, a method of analysis not previously used in intertemporal choice. We find that the hyperbolic discounting model is outperformed by the interval discounting model, which, in turn, is outperformed by the tradeoff model. Our cognitive modeling is among the first to offer quantitative evidence against the conventional view that people make intertemporal choices by discounting the value of future outcomes, and in favor of the view that they directly compare options along the time and outcome attributes.