Guiding Question 1: Why is it so challenging to do things that are good for us?
For example, why is it so challenging to save money? Why is it so challenging to exercise? Why is it so easy to over indulge in tasty foods? Why do we succumb to alcohol or drug addictions? Why is it so challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Why is it so challenging to engage in environmentally-friendly behaviors?
These types of behaviors stem from decisions that traverse time and involve uncertainty. More specifically, we often must choose between what matters to us right now and what will matter to us down the road. These are called intertemporal choices. Many people exhibit what’s called “temporal discounting,” where we overvalue what satisfies us now and undervalue (i.e., “discount”) future outcomes. Temporal discounting is also called future discounting, delay discounting, time discounting, or impulsive choice.
Similarly, we often make choices under uncertainty – in other words, when we do not know what the outcome will be. Choice under uncertainty can also be thought of as risky. Like humans tend to discount the future, many individuals tend to be risk averse – meaning they prefer safer options to probabilistic ones, even when the risk has a higher expected utility. On the other hands, some individuals are risk-seeking, meaning they prefer taking chances when the odds are unknown.
Despite these general decision patterns, there are also individual differences in discounting and risk tolerance. We are interested in understanding who discounts the future more? Who takes more risks? How do past environments (like childhood SES or adversity) relate to current decision patterns? How do individual differences in discounting and risk tolerance relate to important real-world behaviors such as financial attitudes, environmentally friendly behaviors, moral judgment, and substance use?
Currently, we have two projects addressing this guiding question:
- [Preregistered] Mueller, D., & Halfmann, K. (2019, June 6). Dopamine and Utilitarian Moral Judgment. Retrieved from osf.io/tgq4a
- Risky choice, impulsive choice, and student debt attitudes
Guiding question 2: What factors influence risky and impulsive choices?
Beyond describing, explaining, and predicting impulsive and risky choices, we also want to understand what factors influence impulsive and risky choices. More specifically, addressing factors that influence impulsive and risky choices will help us understand why people give into immediate temptations or display risk aversion. Understanding what influences impulsive and risky choices will also help us facilitate adaptive and/or more successful decision-making.
Currently, we have three projects addressing this guiding question:
1. [Preregistered] Schony, M., & Halfmann, K. (2019, June 4). How Confident are Anxious Individuals in Making Ethical Decisions? Retrieved from osf.io/aj7t8
2. [Preregistered] Kornely, D., & Halfmann, K. (2018, June 21). The effect of psychosocial stress on substance use behaviors. https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/ZEAMW
3. Does personal control influence impulsive or risky choice?