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Uncertainty and Hyperbolic Discounting

Author

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  • Partha Dasgupta

    () (Department of Economics, Cambridge University)

  • Eric Maskin

    () (School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study)

Abstract

We propose an evolutionary explanation for the pattern of intertemporal preference reversals often ascribed to "hyperbolic discounting." We take the view that preferences—manifested, for example, in urges, cravings, and inclinations— are the outcome of evolutionary forces, and so will induce animals or humans to make survival-maximizing choices in "typical" decision problems. We show that if the typical problem involves payoffs whose realization times are uncertain, then optimal preferences give rise to relatively patient behavior when the time horizon is long but induce a switch to impatience when the horizon grows short. Such reversals do not entail dynamic inconsistency in typical decision problems; behavior there is optimal. However, if a decision-maker is confronted with a choice for which the realization-time uncertainty falls outside the evolutionary norm, her preferences may well prompt her to behave inconsistently. We argue that, if such a choice problem recurs, her evolutionarily endowed aability to learn will lead her to make self-commitments against these urges.

Suggested Citation

  • Partha Dasgupta & Eric Maskin, 2004. "Uncertainty and Hyperbolic Discounting," Economics Working Papers 0023, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:ads:wpaper:0023
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    2. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 2001. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth among U.S. Households?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 832-857, September.
    3. Weitzman, Martin L, 1979. "Optimal Search for the Best Alternative," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(3), pages 641-654, May.
    4. Martin L. Weitzman, 2001. "Gamma Discounting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 260-271, March.
    5. Menahem E. Yaari, 1965. "Uncertain Lifetime, Life Insurance, and the Theory of the Consumer," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 32(2), pages 137-150.
    6. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    7. Samuelson, Larry & Swinkels, Jeroen M., 2006. "Information, evolution and utility," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(1), pages 119-142, March.
    8. Rubinstein, Ariel, 2001. "A theorist's view of experiments," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(4-6), pages 615-628, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making

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