Intertemporal Uncertainty Avoidance: When the Future Is Uncertain, People Prefer the Present, and When the Present Is Uncertain, People Prefer the Future

Intertemporal Uncertainty Avoidance: When the Future Is Uncertain, People Prefer the Present, and When the Present Is Uncertain, People Prefer the Future

By
Jeffrey Pfeffer, David J. Hardisty
Management Science. February
2017, Vol. 63, Issue 2, Pages 519-527

Three studies explored the effects of uncertainty on people’s time preferences for financial gains and losses. In general, individuals seek to avoid uncertainty in situations of intertemporal choice. While holding the expected value of payouts constant, participants preferred immediate gains and losses if the future was uncertain, and preferred future gains and losses if the present was uncertain. This pattern of preferences is incompatible with current models of intertemporal choice, in which people should consistently prefer to have gains now and losses later. This pattern of uncertainty avoidance is also not explained by prospect theory models, which predict risk seeking for losses. We discuss these findings in relation to previous literature.