Opportunity costs of reward delays and the discounting of hypothetical money and cigarettes

Patrick S. Johnson, Evan S. Herrmann, Matthew W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Humans are reported to discount delayed rewards at lower rates than nonhumans. However, nonhumans are studied in tasks that restrict reinforcement during delays, whereas humans are typically studied in tasks that do not restrict reinforcement during delays. In nonhuman tasks, the opportunity cost of restricted reinforcement during delays may increase delay discounting rates. The present within-subjects study used online crowdsourcing (Amazon Mechanical Turk, or MTurk) to assess the discounting of hypothetical delayed money (and cigarettes in smokers) under four hypothetical framing conditions differing in the availability of reinforcement during delays. At one extreme, participants were free to leave their computer without returning, and engage in any behavior during reward delays (modeling typical human tasks). At the opposite extreme, participants were required to stay at their computer and engage in little other behavior during reward delays (modeling typical nonhuman tasks). Discounting rates increased as an orderly function of opportunity cost. Results also indicated predominantly hyperbolic discounting, the "magnitude effect," steeper discounting of cigarettes than money, and positive correlations between discounting rates of these commodities. This is the first study to test the effects of opportunity costs on discounting, and suggests that procedural differences may partially account for observed species differences in discounting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-107
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Volume103
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Keywords

  • Cigarette
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Delay discounting
  • Human
  • Hypothetical
  • Money
  • Opportunity cost

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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