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A Model of Focusing in Economic Choice


  • Botond Koszegi
  • Adam Szeidl


We present a generally applicable theory of focusing based on the hypothesis that a person focuses more on, and hence overweights, attributes in which her options differ more. Our model predicts that the decision maker is too prone to choose options with concentrated advantages relative to alternatives, but maximizes utility when the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives are equally concentrated. Applying our model to intertemporal choice, these results predict that a person exhibits present bias and time inconsistency when--such as in lifestyle choices and other widely invoked applications of hyperbolic discounting--the future effect of a current decision is distributed over many dates, and the effects of multiple decisions accumulate. But unlike in previous models, in our theory (1) present bias is lower when the costs of current misbehavior are less dispersed, helping explain why people respond more to monetary incentives than to health concerns in harmful consumption; and (2) time inconsistency is lower when a person commits to fewer decisions with accumulating effects in her ex ante choice. In addition, a person does not fully maximize welfare even when making decisions ex ante: (3) she commits to too much of an activity--for example, exercise or work--that is beneficial overall; and (4) makes "future-biased" commitments when--such as in preparing for a big event--the benefit of many periods' effort is concentrated in a single goal. JEL Codes: D03, D40, D91. Copyright 2013, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Botond Koszegi & Adam Szeidl, 2013. "A Model of Focusing in Economic Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(1), pages 53-104.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:128:y:2013:i:1:p:53-104

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sumit Agarwal & John C. Driscoll & Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2007. "The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions Over the Lifecycle," NBER Working Papers 13191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 2005. "Estimating Discount Functions with Consumption Choices over the Lifecycle," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000643, UCLA Department of Economics.
    3. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson & Guillermo Moloche & Stephen Weinberg, 2006. "Costly Information Acquisition: Experimental Analysis of a Boundedly Rational Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1043-1068, September.
    4. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2007. "Beyond Revealed Preference Choice Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," Discussion Papers 07-031, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    5. Asheim, Geir B., 2007. "Procrastination, partial naivete, and behavioral welfare analysis," Memorandum 02/2007, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    6. Kfir Eliaz & Michael Richter & Ariel Rubinstein, 2011. "Choosing the two finalists," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 46(2), pages 211-219, February.
    7. Terrance Odean, 1998. "Are Investors Reluctant to Realize Their Losses?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 53(5), pages 1775-1798, October.
    8. Damon Jones, 2012. "Inertia and Overwithholding: Explaining the Prevalence of Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 158-185, February.
    9. Jannett Highfill & Douglas Thorson & William V. Weber, 1998. "Tax Overwithholding as a Response To Uncertainty," Public Finance Review, , vol. 26(4), pages 376-391, July.
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    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D40 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - General
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making


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