Intertemporal Choice and Conflicting Goals: The Effect of Priming on Delay-Related Impulsive Behavior

Linea Weien Lippert

Student thesis: Master thesis


Intertemporal choices in which we choose between an immediate reward, or larger, delayed reward are ubiquitous and often trivial to an everyday life; yet, these decisions are highly consequential, as they affect many aspects of our future. Traditionally, economic theory has viewed variances in intertemporal choice as a result of individual trait differences, assuming people’s choice behavior stable over time while overlooking the impact of state differences. In the current research, we explore the impact of state differences through the effect of priming, as this remains fairly unexplored. In doing so, this thesis applies goal system theory to restate intertemporal choice decisions as a matter of conflicting goals. This allows for a cross-situational and dynamic perspective on intertemporal choice, suggesting that the behavior may be determined by the activation of goals through priming stimuli. As such, the current research investigates the effect of priming on intertemporal choice through goal activation, in which participants’ temporal focus and affective state is attempted manipulated. The study consisted of an online experiment in which participants (n = 127) were randomized to different priming conditions: a future focus, a present focus or a non-temporal focus, which intended to either decrease, increase or have no effect on the amount participants discounted future rewards. This was measured by calculating participants’ discount rate using the 27-item Monetary Choice Questionnaire. Additionally, it was expected that steep delay discounting would be associated with short decision duration, while longer decision duration would be associated with less delay discounting. The findings did not provide evidence of an effect of priming. At most, the study may point to a possible effect on decision duration. Thus, it may be suggested that priming has a marginal effect on intertemporal choice, and that people’s discounting behavior is relatively stable over time, however the need for future research is stressed.

EducationsMSc in Management of Innovation and Business Development, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2021
Number of pages96
SupervisorsSeidi Suurmets