The Relationship Between Intertemporal Choice and Following the Path of Least Resistance Across Choices, Preferences, and Beliefs

41 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2016 Last revised: 18 Dec 2016

See all articles by Amitai Shenhav

Amitai Shenhav

Princeton University; Brown University

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Joshua D. Greene

Harvard University - Department of Psychology

Date Written: December 16, 2016

Abstract

The degree to which an individual prefers smaller sooner versus larger delayed rewards serves as a powerful predictor of their impulsivity towards a number of different kinds of rewards. Here we test the limits of its predictive ability within a variety of cognitive and social domains. Across several large samples of human subjects we find that individuals who prefer smaller more immediate rewards (steeper discounters) are less reflective (or more impulsive) in their choices, preferences, and beliefs. First, steeper discounters used more automatic/less controlled choice strategies, giving more intuitive but incorrect responses on the Cognitive Reflection Test (replicating previous findings); employing a suboptimal probability matching heuristic for a one-shot gamble (rather than maximizing their probability of reward); and relying less on optimal planning in a two-stage reinforcement learning task. Second, steeper discounters preferred to consume information that was less complex and multi-faceted, as suggested by their self-reported Need for Cognitive Closure, their use of short-form social media (i.e., Twitter), and their preferred news sources (in particular, whether or not they preferred National Public Radio over other news sources). Third, steeper discounters had interpersonal and religious beliefs that are associated with reduced epistemic complexity: they were more likely to believe that the behavior of others could be explained by fixed rather than dynamic factors, and they held stronger beliefs in God and in the afterlife. Together these findings provide evidence for a link between individual differences in temporal discounting for monetary rewards and preferences for the path of least resistance (less reflective and/or more automatic modes of processing) across a variety of domains.

Suggested Citation

Shenhav, Amitai and Rand, David G. and Greene, Joshua D., The Relationship Between Intertemporal Choice and Following the Path of Least Resistance Across Choices, Preferences, and Beliefs (December 16, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2724547 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2724547

Amitai Shenhav (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.princeton.edu/~ashenhav

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.daverand.org

Joshua D. Greene

Harvard University - Department of Psychology ( email )

33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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