Research Focus

Behavioral Economics

Behavioral economics is a field common to both Psychology and Economics. This area of research describes and explains how psychological factors, such as impulsivity and self-control, affect the decision making process in situations that involve money or other commodities. In our lab, the most common measurement of these psychological factors is known as “discounting”.


Although organisms typically prefer larger to smaller, sooner to later, and certain to uncertain reinforcers, predicting choice becomes more complicated when outcomes differ along more than one dimension. Consequently, the value of a reward may be discounted when there is delay or risk involved. Our lab studies two types of discounting: delay and probabilistic. Delay discounting involves the choice between a smaller, immediate reward and a larger, delayed reward. Similarly, probability discounting concerns the preference between a smaller, certain reward and a larger, probabilistic (risky) reward. The degree to which subjects discount these rewards provides a reliable measure of self-control. For example, individuals with higher temporal discounting rates can be considered more impulsive because they are less willing to wait for rewards.

Note: Undergraduates at Wash U are encouraged to join the lab, where they can work with either human subjects or non-human animals. Entering students usually register for Independent Study (up to 3 credits). Students help conduct experiments and are required to attend weekly lab meetings, where they can share ideas and help contribute to the development of new studies.