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Psychon Bull Rev. 2009 Dec;16(6):1071-5. doi: 10.3758/PBR.16.6.1071.

Are people really more patient than other animals? Evidence from human discounting of real liquid rewards.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University, Campus, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.

Erratum in

  • Psychon Bull Rev. 2010 Feb;17(1):139.


In previous studies, researchers have found that humans discount delayed rewards orders of magnitude less steeply than do other animals. Humans also discount smaller delayed reward amounts more steeply than larger amounts, whereas animals apparently do not. These differences between humans and animals might reflect differences in the types of rewards studied and/or the fact that animals actually had to wait for their rewards. In the present article, we report the results of three experiments in which people made choices involving liquid rewards delivered and consumed after actual delays, thereby bridging the gap between animal and human studies. Under these circumstances, humans, like animals, discounted the value of rewards delayed by seconds; however, unlike animals, they still showed an effect of reward amount. Human discounting was well described by the same hyperboloid function that has previously been shown to describe animal discounting of delayed food and water rewards, as well as human discounting of real and hypothetical monetary rewards.

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