Delay discounting and risky choice: Meta-analytic evidence regarding single-process theories

Kelli L. Johnson, Michael T. Bixter, Christian C. Luhmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Preferences about delayed rewards and preferences about risk are central to the literature on decision making. Several proposals suggest that such preferences arise from a single process and thus predict strong associations between preferences about delay and risk. Although there is a wealth of data on this association, the evidence is inconclusive; some studies have reported significant associations but many have not. Consequently, it is unclear whether the association between delay preferences and risk preferences is strong enough to support single-process theories. To further explore this question, we took a meta-analytic approach surveying 26 studies totaling 32 effect sizes. Results reveal a small to moderate association between risk preferences and delay preferences. This result provides little support for existing proposals because the observed relationship is no stronger than associations observed between either delay preferences or risk preferences and other variables. Moderating variables provide some explanation for inconsistencies across studies. Implications, including the apparent discrepancy between this literature and the conventional construct of impulsivity, are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-400
Number of pages20
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


  • Delay discounting
  • Impatience
  • Impulsivity
  • Meta-analysis
  • Probability discounting
  • Risk taking


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