Delay discounting decisions are linked to temporal distance representations of world events across cultures

Denise E. Croote, Baojun Lai, Jingchu Hu, Mark G. Baxter, Alison Montagrin, Daniela Schiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Delay discounting describes the phenomenon whereby the subjective value of a reward declines as the time until its receipt increases. Individuals differ in the subjective value that they assign to future rewards, yet, the components feeding into this appraisal of value remain unclear. We examined whether temporal psychological distance, i.e. the closeness one feels to the past and future, is one such component. English speakers in the USA and Mandarin speakers in China completed a delay discounting task and organized past and future world events on a canvas according to their representation of the event’s temporal position relative to themselves. Previous work has identified linguistic and cultural differences in time conception between these populations, thus, we hypothesized that this sample would display the variability necessary to probe whether temporal psychological distance plays a role in reward valuation. We found that English speakers employed horizontal, linear representations of world events, while Mandarin speakers used more two-dimensional, circular representations. Across cultures, individuals who represented the future as more distant discounted future rewards more strongly. Distance representations of past events, however, were associated with discounting behaviors selectively in Mandarin speakers. This suggests that temporal psychological distance plays a fundamental role in farsighted decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12913
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


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