Values Activation and Present Bias

Values Activation and Present Bias

Onna Brewer, Orhan Erdem
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJABE.2020040104
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Present bias—difficulty resisting instant gratification over a future and larger reward (also called delay discounting)—has been associated with various suboptimal behaviors and health outcomes. Several methods have been proposed to produce reductions in this bias and promote self-control. In this randomized experimental study of 137 undergraduate college students, the authors examined the effect of a 10-minute values clarification writing exercise on present bias in a monetary decision-making task compared with a neutral writing activity. While participants in the values clarification condition showed less present-biased behavior, this finding was not statistically significant at the .05 level. Thus, they place emphasis on implications for future research and practice with the aims of reducing present bias and building better communities.
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Delay discounting, or present bias, is the undervaluing of a larger, later reward and the preference for a smaller, sooner reward. The high prevalence and various forms of present bias have been well-reviewed across economics and behavioral science literature (Frederick, Loewenstein, & O'Donoghue, 2002; Madden & Johnson, 2010). The tendency to prefer immediate gratification has been associated with a variety of maladaptive behaviors and outcomes, including credit card debt (Meir & Sprenger, 2010), less savings (Laibson, 1997), health risks (Chabris, Laibson, Morris, Schuldt, & Taubinsky, 2008; Courtemanche, Heutel, & McAlvanah, 2015), gambling (Dixon et al., 2003), substance use disorders (Kirby & Petry, 2004) and criminal offenses (Moffitt et al., 2011). Several broad developmental and psychosocial factors have been proposed to explain variance in the ability to delay gratification, including socioeconomic status, parenting practices, gender, cognitive factors including intelligence and working memory, mood, and trust (McLeish & Oxoby, 2007; Michaelson & Munakata, 2016; Watts, Duncan, & Quan, 2018). When examining changes in delay discounting and present bias across various laboratory-based and intervention studies, behavioral mechanisms by which the response may be reduced also emerge.

Researchers have attempted to intervene to reduce present bias, with mixed results. Bickel, Yi, Landes, Hill, and Baxter (2011) showed that training working memory reduces delay discounting, and more recently, Dixon et al. (2019) found reduction in momentary impulsivity after a 5-minute mindfulness exercise. In a meta-analytic review, Rung and Madden (2018) describe various theoretical and technical limitations across 92 studies of intervention techniques involving clinical interventions including mindfulness-based approaches and contingency management, as well as laboratory-based interventions including priming, episodic future thinking (EFT), framing, and learning-based manipulations. Within the clinical interventions, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a multi-component behavioral intervention that includes mindfulness and values-based activities. Morrison, Madden, Odum, Friedel, & Twohig (2014) found reductions in delay discounting following brief ACT compared with a waitlist control, but this effect did not reach statistical significance. We propose that a sub-component of ACT, values clarification, is a promising brief behavioral intervention for reducing present bias and warrants further research.

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