Temporal Horizons and Decision-Making: A Big Data Approach


Human behavior is plagued by shortsightedness. When faced with two options, smaller rewards are often chosen over larger rewards, even when such choices are potentially costly. In three experiments, we use big data techniques to examine how such choices might be driven by people’s temporal horizons. In Experiment 1, we determine the average distance into the future people talk about in their tweets in order to determine the temporal horizon of each U.S. state. States with further future horizons had lower rates of risk taking. In Experiment 2, we used an individual’s tweets to establish their temporal horizon and found that those with longer temporal horizons were more willing to wait for larger rewards. In Experiment 3, we show with tweets that those with longer future horizons were less likely to take risks. The findings help establish a powerful relationship between people’s thoughts about the future and their decisions.

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