The role of Ambiguity and Self-Control in Intertemporal Choice

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Choosing between varying outcomes that occur at different points in time is one of the hardest decisions people have to make several times a day. More specifically, having the choice between a bar of chocolate now (sooner smaller (SS) reward) or having the self-control to resist the urge of sugar and losing weight faster (later larger (LL) reward) is an example of what is called intertemporal choice. However, we often do not have precise information about the occurrence of tradeoffs when making decisions (e.g., when will I loose five pounds?). This is called ambiguity. How self-control influences intertemporal choices under ambiguity has not been investigated yet. Therefore, we collected data from 99 students by filling in a 10-Item Self-Scoring Self-Control Scale questionnaire to determine their level of self-control. In addition, participants had to complete an intertemporal choice task that varies in ambiguity. This computer task included 96 trials with SS and LL rewards that had exact or ambiguous outcome timings. First, a relation between higher self-control and a greater proportion of LL choices is hypothesized. Second, this main effect of self-control on the proportion of LL choices is stronger during ambiguous trials compared to exact trials. In contrast, no significant relation between self-control and the proportion of LL choices was found. Moreover, the results showed that there is no interaction between self-control and ambiguity on the proportion of LL choices. Therefore, it can be concluded that self-control does not have a major influence as it was expected beforehand.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen