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Abstract

People are not indifferent to when experiences happen; rather they prefer to have painful experiences in their past and pleasurable experiences in their future. In this dissertation, I explore the extent to which lay people display time-biased preferences, the factors that moderate these preferences, and the implications this has for reducing bias in decision making. I demonstrate that people prefer pain to occur in the past as opposed to the future for both themselves (Study 1) and others (Study 2) and that people are willing to incur additional pain in the past to avoid future pain. When people make judgments about more distal social targets this preference for past pain is reduced (Study 3). Similarly, when people are more temporally removed from the decision, the preference for past pain is reduced (Study 4). Purposefully engaging in mental time travel (thinking forward to a future time point or backward to a past time point) causes participants to be less likely to prefer pain in the past (Study 5). Mental time travel does not impact a related behavior, judgments of the value of a painful experience (Study 6). Whereas many scholars have suggested that people should be temporally neutral in their judgments, these studies suggest that people are time biased and that taking on a more distal viewpoint can reduce this bias. The findings have implications for how we value experiences and when we choose to complete aversive tasks.

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