Asymmetric Discounting in Intertemporal Choice: A Query Theory Account
8 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2008 Last revised: 31 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2007
When asked to delay consumption, people are impatient and discount future rewards more than when offered the chance to accelerate consumption. Three experiments provide a process-level account for this asymmetry, with implications for the design of decision environments that promote less impulsivity. In Experiment 1, a thought-listing procedure shows that people decompose discount valuation into two queries. Considering delayed vs. accelerated receipt of a gift-certificate influences the order in which memory is queried to support immediate vs. delayed consumption, which affects the number of patient vs. impatient thoughts. Relative frequency and clustering of impatient thoughts predicts discounting and mediates the discounting asymmetry. Experiment 2 implicates query-order causally: Listing reasons for immediate vs. delayed consumption in the orders people use spontaneously in acceleration and delay decisions replicates the discounting asymmetry; reversing this order eliminates it. Experiment 3 supports a memory-interference account of the effect of query order, using an implicit-memory task.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation