Cumulative Weighing of Time in Intertemporal Tradeoffs

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Abstract

We examine preferences for sequences of delayed monetary gains. In the experimental literature, two prominent models have been advanced as psychological descriptions of preferences for sequences. In one model, the instantaneous utilities of the outcomes in a sequence are discounted as a function of their delays, and assembled into a discounted utility of the sequence. In the other model, the accumulated utility of the outcomes in a sequence is considered along with utility or disutility from improvement in outcome utilities and utility or disutility from the spreading of outcome utilities. Drawing on three threads of evidence concerning preferences for sequences of monetary gains, we propose that the accumulated utility of the outcomes in a sequence is traded off against the duration of utility accumulation. In our first experiment, aggregate choice behavior provides qualitative support for the tradeoff model. In three subsequent experiments, one of which incentivized, disaggregate choice behavior provides quantitative support for the tradeoff model in Bayesian model contests. One thread of evidence motivating the tradeoff model is that, when, in the choice between two single dated outcomes, it is conveyed that receiving less sooner means receiving nothing later, preference for receiving more later increases, but when it is conveyed that receiving more later means receiving nothing sooner, preference is left unchanged. Our results show that this asymmetric hidden-zero effect is indeed driven by those supporting the tradeoff model. The tradeoff model also accommodates all remaining evidence on preferences for sequences of monetary gains.

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