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A Deeper Look at Hyperbolic Discounting

  • Sopher, Barry
  • Sheth, Arnav

We conduct an experiment to investigate the degree to which deviations from exponential discounting can be accounted for by the hypothesis of hyperbolic discounting. Subjects are asked to choose between an earlier or later payoff in a series of 40 choice questions. Each question consists of a pair of monetary amounts determined by com- pounding a given base amount at a constant rate per period. Two bases (8 and 20 dollars), three compounding rates (low, medium and high) and three delays (2, 4, and 6 weeks) are each used. There are also 2 initial periods (Today and 2 weeks) and there are two separate questionnaires, one with lower “realistic” compounding rates and the other with higher compounding rates, typical of those used in previous studies. We ana- lyze the detailed patterns of choice in 6 groups of 6 related questions each (in which the base and rate is fixed but the initial period and delay varies), documenting the frequency of patterns consistent with exponen- tial discounting and with hyperbolic discounting. We find that exponen- tial discounting is the clear modal choice pattern in virtually all cases. Hyperbolic discounting is never the modal pattern (except in the sense that constant discounting is a special case of hyperbolic discounting). We also estimate a linear probability model that takes account of individual heterogeneity. The estimates show substantial increases in the probabil- ity of choosing the later option when the compounding rate increases, as one would expect. There are small, sometimes significant, increases in this probability when the delay is increased or the initial period is in the future. Such behavior is consistent with hyperbolic discounting, but can account for only a small proportion of choices. Overall, deviations from exponential discounting appear to be due to error, or to other effects not accounted for by hyperbolic discounting. Principal among these is an increase in later choices when the base is larger.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 9353.

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Date of creation: May 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Theory and Decision 2-3.60(2006): pp. 219-255
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:9353
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  1. Fishburn, Peter C & Rubinstein, Ariel, 1982. "Time Preference," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 23(3), pages 677-94, October.
  2. Tjalling C. Koopmans, 1959. "Stationary Ordinal Utility and Impatience," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 81, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Uri Benzion & Amnon Rapoport & Joseph Yagil, 1989. "Discount Rates Inferred from Decisions: An Experimental Study," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 35(3), pages 270-284, March.
  4. George Loewenstein & Drazen Prelec, 1992. "Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 573-597.
  5. Thaler, Richard, 1981. "Some empirical evidence on dynamic inconsistency," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 201-207.
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