Heterogeneity and parsimony in intertemporal choice

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Behavioral theories of intertemporal choice involve many moving parts. Most descriptive theories model how time delays and rewards are perceived, compared, and/or combined into preferences or utilities. Most behavioral studies neglect to spell out how such constructs translate into heterogeneous observable choices. We consider several broad models of transitive intertemporal preference and combine these with several mathematically formal, yet very general, models of heterogeneity. We evaluate 20 probabilistic models of intertemporal choice using binary choice data from two large-scale experiments. Our analysis documents the interplay between heterogeneity and parsimony in accounting for empirical data: We find evidence for heterogeneity across individuals and across stimulus sets that can be accommodated with transitive models of varying complexity. We do not find systematic violations of transitivity in our data. Future work should continue to tackle the complex trade-off between parsimony and heterogeneity.