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ERIC Number: EJ1006409
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Apr
Pages: 16
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 82
ISBN: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0033-295X
Rational Temporal Predictions Can Underlie Apparent Failures to Delay Gratification
McGuire, Joseph T.; Kable, Joseph W.
Psychological Review, v120 n2 p395-410 Apr 2013
An important category of seemingly maladaptive decisions involves failure to postpone gratification. A person pursuing a desirable long-run outcome may abandon it in favor of a short-run alternative that has been available all along. Here we present a theoretical framework in which this seemingly irrational behavior emerges from stable preferences and veridical judgments. Our account recognizes that decision makers generally face uncertainty regarding the "time" at which future outcomes will materialize. When timing is uncertain, the value of persistence depends crucially on the nature of a decision maker's prior temporal beliefs. Certain forms of temporal beliefs imply that a delay's predicted remaining length "increases" as a function of time already waited. In this type of situation, the rational, utility-maximizing strategy is to persist for a limited amount of time and then give up. We show empirically that people's explicit predictions of remaining delay lengths indeed increase as a function of elapsed time in several relevant domains, implying that temporal judgments offer a rational basis for limiting persistence. We then develop our framework into a simple working model and show how it accounts for individual differences in a laboratory task (the well-known "marshmallow test"). We conclude that delay-of-gratification failure, generally viewed as a manifestation of limited self-control capacity, can instead arise as an adaptive response to the perceived statistics of one's environment. (Contains 6 figures.)
American Psychological Association. Journals Department, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. Tel: 800-374-2721; Tel: 202-336-5510; Fax: 202-336-5502; e-mail: order@apa.org; Web site: http://www.apa.org/publications
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A