Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Discounting of Food, Sex, and Money

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Discounting of Food, Sex, and Money

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 December 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Discounting is a useful framework for understanding choice involving a range of delayed and probabilistic outcomes (e.g., money, food, drugs), but relatively few studies have examined how people discount other commodities (e.g., entertainment, sex). Using a novel discounting task, where the length of a line represented the value of an outcome and was adjusted using a staircase procedure, we replicated previous findings showing that individuals discount delayed and probabilistic outcomes in a manner well described by a hyperbola-like function. In addition, we found strong positive correlations between discounting rates of delayed, but not probabilistic, outcomes. This suggests that discounting of delayed outcomes may be relatively predictable across outcome types but that discounting of probabilistic outcomes may depend more on specific contexts. The generality of delay discounting and potential context dependence of probability discounting may provide important information regarding factors contributing to choice behavior.

Keywords Choice behavior . Decision making

Understanding choice behavior has both theoretical and ev- eryday implications. Take, for instance, a choice situation that involves whether to use a drug or not, where drug use behav- ior likely would lead to an immediate but fleeting positive outcome, and non-drug-use would likely lead to a longer-term and larger positive outcome. Or consider another situation that involves choosing to invest in either a smaller but certain prospect or a larger but risky prospect. In the investment example, choice of the risky alternative likely depends on, among other things, the actual risk, the size of the potential risky outcome, and the size of the certain outcome. Choice behavior often becomes difficult to predict because the choice alternatives vary along more than one dimension, making it unclear as to what the individual should choose. Discounting has become a common framework used to study choice be- havior (for a review, see Madden & Bickel, 2010) and refers to how the value of an outcome decreases in relation to a second variable. Researchers typically study discounting within either a temporal context or a probabilistic context. Discounting within a temporal context is often called delay discounting and reveals how the value of a reinforcer decreases as the delay to the receipt of the reinforcer increases. Probability discounting, on the other hand, reveals how the value of a reinforcer decreases as the chances of receiving that reinforcer decreases.

Researchers have recently begun to take a greater interest in studying the relations between discounting rates of various outcomes. (e.g., food; see, e.g., Estle, Green, Myerson, & Holt, 2007; Odum & Baumann, 2007; Odum, Baumann, & Rimington, 2006; Odum & Rainaud, 2003). That is, does knowing something about how an individual discounts one outcome (e.g., money) allow for predictions to be made re- garding the relative rate of discounting of other outcomes (e.g., food)? However, one of the difficulties in comparing different outcome types is how to quantify outcomes that are not easily expressed in comparable units. Although a wide range of outcome types have been studied (e.g., health, Chapman, 1996; erotic stimuli, Lawyer, 2008;sex,Lawyer, Williams, Prihodova, Rollins, & Lester, 2010; alcohol, Petry, 2001; cocaine, Coffey, Gudleski, Saladin, & Brady, 2003; entertainment items, Charlton & Fantino, 2008;Internet, Saville, Gisbert, Kopp, & Telesco, 2010), it is often difficult to quantify terms in units as comparable as monetary out- comes. Some outcome types appear more amenable to being expressed in monetary units (e.g., entertainment items ex- plored by Charlton & Fantino, 2008), but this does not seem to be the case for other outcome types (e.g., bites of food, Rasmussen, Lawyer, & Reilly, 2010; years of health, Chapman, 1996; minutes of sexual stimulation, Lawyer et al. …

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