Journal Article

Rate maximization and hyperbolic discounting in human experiential intertemporal decision making

Maayke Suzanne Seinstra, Manuela Sellitto and Tobias Kalenscher

Edited by David Stephens

in Behavioral Ecology

Published on behalf of International Society of Behavioural Ecology

Volume 29, issue 1, pages 193-203
Published in print January 2018 | ISSN: 1045-2249
Published online November 2017 | e-ISSN: 1465-7279 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arx145
Rate maximization and hyperbolic discounting in human experiential intertemporal decision making

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences
  • Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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Abstract

Decisions between differently timed outcomes are a well-studied topic in as diverse academic disciplines as economics, psychology, and behavioral ecology. Humans and other animals have been shown to make these intertemporal choices by hyperbolically devaluing rewards as a function of their delays (“delay discounting”), thus often deemed to behave myopically. In behavioral ecology, however, intertemporal choices are assumed to meet optimization principles, that is, the maximization of energy or reward rate. Thus far, it is unclear how different approaches assuming these 2 currencies, reward devaluation and reward rate maximization, could be reconciled. Here, we investigated the degree at which humans (N = 81) discount reward value and maximize reward rate when making intertemporal decisions. We found that both hyperbolic discounting and rate maximization well approximated the choices made in a range of different intertemporal choice design conditions. Notably, rate maximization rules provided even better fits to the choice data than hyperbolic discounting models in all conditions. Interestingly, in contrast to previous findings, rate maximization was universally observed in all choice frames, and not confined to foraging settings. Moreover, rate maximization correlated with the degree of hyperbolic discounting in all conditions. This finding is in line with the possibility that evolution has favored hyperbolic discounting because it subserves reward rate maximization by allowing for flexible adjustment of preference for smaller, sooner or larger, later rewards. Thus, rate maximization may be a universal principle that has shaped intertemporal decision making in general and across a wide range of choice problems.

Keywords: hyperbolic discounting; intertemporal choice; preference reversal; reward rate maximization

Journal Article.  9867 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences ; Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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