Time Preference, Executive Functions, and Ego-Depletion: An Exploratory Study

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Abstract

The present research investigates the ways in which the time preferences of young adults are influenced by the level of their executive cognitive abilities and by situational changes in these abilities. Within the framework of this study, young adults were asked to respond to a questionnaire dealing with their time preferences in light of changing amounts and delay durations. Some were asked to do a Stroop task beforehand, whereas others performed a similar but simpler task. This research assumes that because the Stroop task requires that the individual reach a decision while overcoming an automatic tendency and an ingrained habit, his or her self-control resources are depleted. As such, when an individual is filling out the questionnaire dealing with time preferences after a Stroop task, his or her ability to avoid automatic tendencies is depleted, making it difficult for him/her to reject the receipt of money in the present. The study found that, in general, individuals having good executive cognitive abilities, namely, those who got the highest scores on the Stroop task, were characterized by a lower rate of subjective discounting. In addition, the research showed a marked difference between those individuals who had experienced depletion and those who had not, in that the depleted individuals tended to demand higher discount rates for having postponed the payment. This means that the depletion of executive-ability resources caused a behavior similar to that of those having the lowest executive abilities. This outcome may attest to the fact that a depletion in the available level of executive abilities in an individual reduces the ability of that individual to overcome his or her natural tendency to prefer the present, thus influencing his or her intertemporal choices.

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