Ainslie argues that our responses to the threat of our own inconsistency determine the basic fabric of human culture. He suggests that individuals are more like populations of bargaining agents than like the hierarchical command structures envisaged by cognitive psychologists. The forces that create and constrain these populations help us understand so much that is puzzling in human action and interaction: from addictions and other self-defeating behaviors to the experience of willfulness, from pathological over-control and self-deception to subtler forms of (...) behavior such as altruism, sadism, gambling, and the 'social construction' of belief. This book integrates approaches from experimental psychology, philosophy of mind, microeconomics, and decision science to present one of the most profound and expert accounts of human irrationality available. It will be of great interest to philosophers and an important resource for professionals and students in psychology, economics and political science. (shrink)
The models of internal self-control that have recently been proposed by behavioral economists do not depict motivational interaction that occurs while temptation is present. Those models that include willpower at all either envision a faculty with a motivation (“strength”) different from the motives that are weighed in the marketplace of choice, or rely on incompatible goals among diverse brain centers. Both assumptions are questionable, but these models’ biggest problem is that they do not let resolutions withstand re-examination while being challenged (...) by impulsive alternatives. The economists’ models all attempt to make a single equilibrium preference predictable from a person’s prior incentives. This was the original purpose of these models’ hyperboloid (“β–δ”) delay discount functions, which have been widely justified by the assumption that a person’s intertemporal inconsistency (impulsiveness) can be accounted for by the arousal of appetite for visceral rewards. Although arousal is clearly a factor in some cases of intertemporal inconsistency, it cannot be blamed for others, and furthermore does not necessarily imply hyperboloid discounting. The inadequacy of β–δ functions is particularly evident in models of internal self-control. I have reviewed several of these models, and have argued for a return to pure hyperbolic discount function as originally proposed, the relatively high tails of which can motivate a recursive process of self-prediction and thereby the formation of self-enforcing intertemporal contracts. Such a process does not require a separately motivated faculty of will, or incompatible goals among brain centers; but it also does not permit the prediction of unique preferences from prior incentives. (shrink)
ABSTRACT The list of proposed addictions has recently grown to include television, videogames, shopping, day trading, kleptomania, and use of the Internet. These activities share with a more established entry, gambling, the property that they require no delivery of a biological stimulus that might be thought to unlock a hardwired brain process. I propose a framework for analyzing that class of incentives that do not depend on the prediction of physically privileged environmental events: people have a great capacity to coin (...) endogenous reward; we learn to cultivate it, and, where it is entrapping, to minimize it, by managing internally generated appetites for it. The basic method of cultivating endogenous reward is to learn cues that predict when best to harvest the reward that has been made possible by the growth of these appetites. This hedonic management occurs in the same motivational marketplace as the instrumental planning that seeks environmental goods in the conventional manner, and presumably obeys the same laws of temporal difference learning; but these laws are no longer limiting. Furthermore, instrumental contingencies often provide the most productive structure for hedonic management as well, for reasons that I discuss; but the needs of hedonic management create incentives both to pursue instrumental goals in a suboptimal manner and to avoid noticing how the hedonic incentive affects this pursuit. The result is the apparent irrationality that is often observed in process addictions. (shrink)
Philosophy and its descendents in the behavioral sciences have traditionally divided incentives into those that are sought and those that are avoided. Positive incentives are held to be both attractive and memorable because of the direct effects of pleasure. Negative incentives are held to be unattractive but still memorable (the problem of pain) because they force unpleasant emotions on an individual by an unmotivated process, either a hardwired response (unconditioned response) or one substituted by association (conditioned response). Negative incentives are (...) divided into those that are always avoided and those that are avoided only by higher mental processes—archetypically the passions, which are also thought of as hardwired or conditioned. Newer dichotomies within the negative have been proposed, hinging on whether a negative incentive is nevertheless sought (“wanted but not liked”) or on an incentive's being negative only because it is confining (the product of “rule worship”). The newer dichotomies have lacked motivational explanations, and there is reason to question conditioning in the motivational mechanism for the older ones.
Both experimental findings and the examination of common experience indicate that even the most aversive experiences, such as pain and panic, do not prevail in reflex fashion, but because of an urge to attend to them. The well-established hyperbolic curve in which prospective rewards are discounted implies a mechanism for such an urge, as well as for the “lower” incentives in the other dichotomies. The properties of these lower incentives are predicted by particular durations of temporary preferences on a continuum that stretches from fractions of a second to years. (shrink)
An emotional value for money is clearly demonstrable beyond its value for getting goods, but this value need not be ascribed to human preparedness for altruism or play. Emotion is a motivated process, and our temptation to “overgraze” positive emotions selects for emotional patterns that are paced by adequately rare occasions. As a much-competed-for tool, money makes an excellent occasion for emotional reward – a prize with value beyond its tool value – but this is true also of the other (...) facts by which we pace our emotions. (Published Online April 5 2006). (shrink)
Foresight requires not only scenarios constructed from memories, but also adequate incentive to let these scenarios compete with current rewards. This incentive probably comes from the efficacy of the scenarios in occasioning present emotions, which depends not on their accuracy per se but on their uniqueness as compared with other possible occasions for emotion.
Lewis ascribes the stubborn persistence of addictions to habit, itself a normal process that does not imply lack of responsiveness to motivation. However, he suggests that more dynamic processes may be involved, for instance that “our recurrently focused brains inevitably self-organize.” Given hyperbolic delay discounting, a reward-seeking internal marketplace model describes two processes, also normal in themselves, that may give rise to the “deep attachment” to addictive activities that he describes: People learn to interpret current choices as test cases for (...) how they can expect to choose in the future, thus recruiting additional incentive against a universal tendency to temporarily prefer smaller, sooner to larger, later rewards. However, when this incentive is not enough, the same interpretation creates incentive to abandon the failed area, leading to the abstinence violation effect and a localized weak will. Normal human value does not come entirely, or even mainly, from expectation of external rewards, but is generated endogenously in imagination. Hyperbolic discounting provides an account of how we learn to cultivate the hedonic importance of occasions for endogenous reward by building appetite. In this account, expectations of the far future have to be rewarded endogenously if they are be as important as currently rewarded alternatives; and this importance is prone to collapse. Both will and hedonic importance are recursive and thus hard to study by controlled experiment, but do represent modelable, reward-based hypotheses about the dynamic nature of habit. (shrink)
Science has needed a dispassionate valuation of psychoactive drugs, but a motivational analysis should be conducted with respect to long-term reward rather than reproductive fitness. Because of hyperbolic overvaluation of short-term rewards, an individual's valuation depends on the time she forms it and the times she will revisit it, sometimes making her best long-term interest lie in total abstinence.
The radical evolutionary step that divides human decision-making from that of nonhumans is the ability to excite the reward process for its own sake, in imagination. Combined with hyperbolic over-valuation of the present, this ability is a potential threat to both the individual's long term survival and the natural selection of high intelligence. Human belief is intrinsically or under-founded, which may or may not be adaptive.
The question of reductionism is an obstacle to unification. Many behavioral scientists who study the more complex or higher mental functions avoid regarding them as selected by motivation. Game-theoretic models in which complex processes grow from the strategic interaction of elementary reward-seeking processes can overcome the mechanical feel of earlier reward-based models. Three examples are briefly described. (Published Online April 27 2007).
An intertemporal bargaining model of commitment does not entail the interaction of parts within the person as Rachlin claims, and is needed to explain properties of self-control that his molar generalization model does not predict.
Colman proposes that the domain of interpersonal choice requires an alternative and nonindividualistic conception of rationality. However, the anomalies he catalogues can be accounted for with less radical departures from orthodox rational choice theory. In particular, we emphasize the need for descriptive and prescriptive rationality to incorporate recursive interplay between one's own choices and one's expectation regarding others' choices.
Lewis's dynamic systems approach is a refreshing change from the reflexology of most neuroscience, but it could go a step further: It could include the expected rewardingness of an emotion in the recursive feedback loop that determines whether the emotion will occur. Two possible objections to such a model are discussed: that emotions are not deliberate, and that negative emotions should lose out as instrumental choices.
Canonical utility theory may have adopted its selfishness postulate because it lacked theoretical rationales for two major kinds of incentive: empathic utility and self-signaling. Empathy – using vicarious experiences to occasion your emotions – gives these experiences market value as a means of avoiding the staleness of self-generated emotion. Self-signaling is inevitable in anyone trying to overcome a perceived character flaw. Hyperbolic discounting of future reward supplies incentive mechanisms for both empathic utility and self-signaling. Neither can be effectively suppressed for (...) an experimental game. (shrink)
Wegner makes an excellent case that our sense of ownership of our actions depends on multiple factors, to such an extent that it could be called virtual or even illusory. However, two other core functions of will are initiation of movement and maintenance of resolution, which depend on our accurate monitoring of them. This book shows that will is not an imponderable black box but, rather, an increasingly accessible set of specific functions.
Dispassionate cruelty and the euphoria of hunting or battle should be distinguished from the emotional savoring of victims' suffering. Such savoring, best called negative empathy, is what puzzles motivational theory. Hyperbolic discounting theory suggests that sympathy with people who have unwanted but seductive traits creates a threat to self-control. Cruelty to those people may often be the least effortful way of countering this threat.
The target article proposes that “counterintuitive beliefs in supernatural agents” are shaped by cognitive factors and survive because they foster empathic concern and counteract existential dread. I argue that they are shaped by motivational forces similar to those that shape our beliefs about other people; that empathic concern is rewarded in a more elementary fashion; and that a major function of these supernatural beliefs may be to provide a more flexible alternative to autonomous willpower in controlling not only dread but (...) also many other unwelcome urges. (shrink)
A climate that is too cold to grow crops for part of the year demands foresight and self-control skills. To the extent that a culture has developed intertemporal bargaining, its members will have more autonomy, but pay the cost of being more compulsive, than members of societies that have not. Monetary resources will be a consequence but will also be fed back as a cause.
Intertemporal bargaining theory based on the hyperbolic discounting of expected rewards accounts for how choosing in categories increases self-control, without postulating, as Rachlin does, the additional rewardingness of patterns per se. However, altruism does not seem to be based on self-control, but on the primary rewardingness of vicarious experience. We describe a mechanism that integrates vicarious experience with other goods of limited availability.
Freud was the first author to conceive internal motivational conflict in economic terms. Although behaviorists have often rejected his concepts because the findings that gave rise to them were based on subjective methods, they are largely compatible with behavioral data on motivation, and indeed predicted by Herrnstein's matching law. Psychoanalysis is much closer to behavioral than to cognitive psychology, which does not conceive self-contraditory behavior as a motivational problem.
The Perception-Action Model (PAM) is a cogent theory of how organisms get information about others' experiences. However, such a stimulus-driven mechanism does not handle well the complex choices that humans face about how to respond to this information. Hyperbolic reward discounting permits a reward-driven mechanism for both how aversive empathic experiences can compete for attention and how pleasurable empathic experiences are constrained.
“Self-deception” usually occurs when a false belief would be more rewarding than an objective belief in the short run, but less rewarding in the long run. Given hyperbolic discounting of delayed events, people will be motivated in their long-range interest to create self-enforcing rules for testing reality, and in their long-range interest to evade these rules. Self-deception, then, resembles interpersonal deception in being an evasion of rules, but differs in being a product of intertemporal conflict.
To the extent that acting fairly is in an individual's long-term interest, short-term impulses to cheat present a self-control problem. The only effective solution is to interpret the problem as a variant of repeated prisoner's dilemma, with each choice as a test case predicting future choices. Moral choice appears to be the product of a contract because it comes from self-enforcing intertemporal cooperation.
The will has generated a wider range of opinions than most phenomena, lacking as it does both an animal model and consistent behavioral correlates. It has even been held not to exist. The commentators approached my intertemporal bargaining (picoeconomic) model from many angles. Doubts about the existence of the underlying phenomenon, hyperbolic discounting, were still raised by some, but other commentators added to the evidence for it, which I regard now as overwhelming. Where mechanisms of self-control were specified, I found (...) it possible to place them within a picoeconomic framework. (shrink)