Asymmetric discounting of gains and losses: A query theory account

  • Kirstin C. AppeltEmail author
  • David J. Hardisty
  • Elke U. Weber


People discount delayed gains (where the default is to receive a smaller gain sooner) more than accelerated gains (where the default is to receive a larger gain later). For losses, the pattern reverses—people discount delayed losses less than accelerated losses. In Study 1, confirming a Query Theory process account, this sign by direction interaction is mediated by the prominence of thoughts in favor of the default. Thoughts in favor of the smaller, sooner amount are more prominent in delay scenarios than acceleration scenarios, and this increases discounting for gains and decreases discounting for losses. Study 2 confirms the causal role of the order of option consideration. Participants considering thoughts in the natural order (pro-default thoughts first) replicate the sign by direction interaction, whereas participants considering thoughts in the opposite, unnatural order (pro-alternative thoughts first) do not. Reversing the order of option consideration eliminates the sign by direction interaction.


Intertemporal choice Discounting Losses Constructed preference Query theory 

JEL Classification




Support for this research was provided by the National Institute of Aging, grant R01AG027931-01A2, and the National Science Foundation, grant SES-0820496. The authors wish to thank the participants of the 2nd Annual Princeton Conference on Psychology and Policymaking for many helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirstin C. Appelt
    • 1
    Email author
  • David J. Hardisty
    • 1
  • Elke U. Weber
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology & Graduate School of BusinessColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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