Delay, Probability, and Social Discounting in a Public Goods Game

Publication Title

Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Publication Date


Document Type





altruism, self-control, risk-taking, social discounting, delay discounting, probability discounting, public goods game, cooperation, humans


Applied Behavior Analysis | Behavioral Economics | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychology


A human social discount function measures the value to a person of a reward to another person at a given social distance. Just as delay discounting is a hyperbolic function of delay, and probability discounting is a hyperbolic function of odds-against, social discounting is a hyperbolic function of social distance. Experiment 1 obtained individual social, delay, and probability discount functions for a hypothetical $75 reward; participants also indicated how much of an initial $100 endowment they would contribute to a common investment in a public good. Steepness of discounting correlated, across participants, among all three discount dimensions. However, only social and probability discounting were correlated with the public-good contribution; high public-good contributors were more altruistic and also less risk averse than low contributors. Experiment 2 obtained social discount functions with hypothetical $75 rewards and delay discount functions with hypothetical $1,000 rewards, as well as public-good contributions. The results replicated those of Experiment 1; steepness of the two forms of discounting correlated with each other across participants but only social discounting correlated with the public-good contribution. Most participants in Experiment 2 predicted that the average contribution would be lower than their own contribution.



Publisher Location

Hoboken, NJ