Deliberating trade-offs with the future

Abstract

Many fundamental choices in life are intertemporal: they involve trade-offs between sooner and later outcomes. In recent years there has been a surge of interest into how people make intertemporal decisions, given that such decisions are ubiquitous in everyday life and central in domains from substance use to climate change action. While it is clear that people make decisions according to rules, intuitions and habits, they also commonly deliberate over their options, thinking through potential outcomes and reflecting on their own preferences. In this Perspective, we bring to bear recent research into the higher-order capacities that underpin deliberation—particularly those that enable people to think about the future (prospection) and their own thinking (metacognition)—to shed light on intertemporal decision-making. We show how a greater appreciation for these mechanisms of deliberation promises to advance our understanding of intertemporal decision-making and unify a wide range of otherwise disparate choice phenomena.

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Fig. 1: Deliberating over anticipated changes of mind.
Fig. 2: Deliberation in intertemporal choice phenomena.

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Acknowledgements

We thank R. Bhui, N. Brashier, T. Cochard, C. Conwell, D. Bulley, B. Leahy, J. Mahr, H. Pailian, D. Palombo, J. Redshaw, T. Suddendorf and M. Wilks for helpful discussions and comments on a previous draft of this article. A.B. is supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council CJ Martin Biomedical Fellowship APP1162811. D.L.S. is supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant R01 MH060941 and National Institute on Aging grant R01 AG008441. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Bulley, A., Schacter, D.L. Deliberating trade-offs with the future. Nat Hum Behav 4, 238–247 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0834-9

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