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Trends Cogn Sci. 2007 Nov;11(11):482-8. Epub 2007 Nov 5.

Intertemporal choice--toward an integrative framework.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Intertemporal choices are decisions with consequences that play out over time. These choices range from the prosaic--how much food to eat at a meal--to life-changing decisions about education, marriage, fertility, health behaviors and savings. Intertemporal preferences also affect policy debates about long-run challenges, such as global warming. Historically, it was assumed that delayed rewards were discounted at a constant rate over time. Recent theoretical and empirical advances from economic, psychological and neuroscience perspectives, however, have revealed a more complex account of how individuals make intertemporal decisions. We review and integrate these advances. We emphasize three different, occasionally competing, mechanisms that are implemented in the brain: representation, anticipation and self-control.

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