A general theory of intertemporal decision-making and the perception of time

Vijay M.K. Namboodiri, Stefan Mihalas, Tanya M. Marton, Marshall G. Hussain Shuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animals and humans make decisions based on their expected outcomes. Since relevant outcomes are often delayed, perceiving delays and choosing between earlier vs. later rewards (intertemporal decision-making) is an essential component of animal behavior. The myriad observations made in experiments studying intertemporal decision-making and time perception have not yet been rationalized within a single theory. Here we present a theory-Training-Integrated Maximized Estimation of Reinforcement Rate (TIMERR)-that explains a wide variety of behavioral observations made in intertemporal decision-making and the perception of time. Our theory postulates that animals make intertemporal choices to optimize expected reward rates over a limited temporal window which includes a past integration interval-over which experienced reward rate is estimated-as well as the expected delay to future reward. Using this theory, we derive mathematical expressions for both the subjective value of a delayed reward and the subjective representation of the delay. A unique contribution of our work is in finding that the past integration interval directly determines the steepness of temporal discounting and the non-linearity of time perception. In so doing, our theory provides a single framework to understand both intertemporal decision-making and time perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number61
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 28 2014


  • Decision-making
  • Discounting
  • Impulsivity
  • Intertemporal choice theory
  • Scalar timing
  • Time perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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