The social contagion of temporal discounting in small social networks

Michael T. Bixter, Christian C. Luhmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Decisions often require a tradeoff between immediate and long-term gratification. How individuals resolve such tradeoffs reflects constructs such as temporal discounting, the degree that individuals devalue delayed rewards. Recent research has started to focus on temporal decisions made in collaborative contexts (e.g., dyads, small groups). Results suggest that directly interacting with others leads to revisions in preferences, such that decision makers become more similar to their collaborative partners over time (e.g., more patient following collaboration with a patient other). What remains to be seen is whether this social influence extends to indirect social effects, such as when an individual influences another’s preferences through a shared collaborative partner. In the current study, the focus was on decisions regarding hypothetical monetary rewards. Groups of three participated in a collaborative decision-making chain, in which network member X collaborated with member Y, who then subsequently collaborated with member Z. Though network members X and Z never directly interacted, a significant indirect link was observed between member X’s pre-collaborative decision preferences and member Z’s post-collaborative decision preferences. These results demonstrate that temporal decision preferences can be transmitted through intervening connections in a small social network (i.e., social contagion), showing that indirect social influence can be empirically observed and measured in controlled environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Decision making
  • Direct influence
  • Indirect influence
  • Small groups
  • Social contagion
  • Social influence
  • Temporal discounting


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