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Models of Temporal Discounting 1937–2000: An Interdisciplinary Exchange between Economics and Psychology

  • Till Grüne-Yanoff (a1)

Today's models of temporal discounting are the result of multiple interdisciplinary exchanges between psychology and economics. Although these exchanges did not result in an integrated discipline, they had important effects on all disciplines involved. The paper describes these exchanges from the 1930s onwards, focusing on two episodes in particular: an attempted synthesis by psychiatrist George Ainslie and others in the 1970s; and the attempted application of this new discounting model by a generation of economists and psychologists in the 1980s, which ultimately ended in the diversity of measurements disappointment. I draw four main conclusions. First, multiple notions of temporal discounting must be conceptually distinguished. Second, behavioral economics is not an integration or unification of psychology and economics. Third, the analysis identifies some central disciplinary markers that distinguish modeling strategies in economics and psychology. Finally, it offers a case of interdisciplinary success that does not fit the currently dominant account of interdisciplinarity as integration.

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