Representations of Time Affect Willingness to Wait for Future Rewards


How do representations of the future shape behavior? Prior research has shown that people’s willingness to wait for a future reward decreases with increases in time. At the same time, this research has also shown that such effects can depend on the vividness of the future reward, as well as on individual differences. The present research offers a potential explanation for these effects in demonstrating how representations of the future can depend not only on objective distances in time, but also on how distances in time are construed. In three experiments using a delay discounting paradigm, we show that participants who represent the future as close to the present are more likely to wait for future rewards than those who represent the future as far, even when the objective distances are held constant. Applications are discussed to public policy issues such as global warming, and to episodic future thinking.

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