A Random Utility Model of Delay Discounting and Its Application to People With Externalizing Psychopathology

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Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated that working memory capacity plays a central role in delay discounting in people with externalizing psychopathology. These studies used a hyperbolic discounting model, and its single parameter—a measure of delay discounting—was estimated using the standard method of searching for indifference points between intertemporal options. However, there are several problems with this approach. First, the deterministic perspective on delay discounting underlying the indifference point method might be inappropriate. Second, the estimation procedure using the R2 measure often leads to poor model fit. Third, when parameters are estimated using indifference points only, much of the information collected in a delay discounting decision task is wasted. To overcome these problems, this article proposes a random utility model of delay discounting. The proposed model has 2 parameters, 1 for delay discounting and 1 for choice variability. It was fit to choice data obtained from a recently published data set using both maximum-likelihood and Bayesian parameter estimation. As in previous studies, the delay discounting parameter was significantly associated with both externalizing problems and working memory capacity. Furthermore, choice variability was also found to be significantly associated with both variables. This finding suggests that randomness in decisions may be a mechanism by which externalizing problems and low working memory capacity are associated with poor decision making. The random utility model thus has the advantage of disclosing the role of choice variability, which had been masked by the traditional deterministic model.

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