HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management

Abstract

The human mind tends to excessively discount the value of delayed rewards relative to immediate ones, and it is thought that "hot" affective processes drive desires for short-term gratification. Supporting this view, recent findings demonstrate that sadness exacerbates financial impatience even when the sadness is unrelated to the economic decision at hand. Such findings might reinforce the view that emotions must always be suppressed to combat impatience. But if emotions serve adaptive functions, then certain emotions might be capable of reducing excessive impatience for delayed rewards. We found evidence supporting this alternative view. Specifically, we found that (a) the emotion gratitude reduces impatience even when real money is at stake, and (b) the effects of gratitude are differentiable from those of the more general positive state of happiness. These findings challenge the view that individuals must tamp down affective responses through effortful self-regulation to reach more patient and adaptive economic decisions.

Citation

DeSteno, David, Li Ye, Leah Dickens, and Jennifer S. Lerner. "Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience." Psychological Science 25.6 (June 2014): 1262-1267.