Perspective paper out in Nature Human Behaviour

Update: read an accessible summary of the paper in the “Nature Research Behind the Paper” series here: What is deliberation, and how does it influence our decisions?

Excited to announce the release of a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour on how people think through their trade-offs over time. The article, a “Perspective” paper, is the first to come out of my new collaboration at Harvard with my supervisor Dan Schacter. In the paper we try to pin down a definition of deliberation. In the process, we argue that the higher-order capacities for prospection (thinking about the future) and metacognition (thinking about thinking) are integral. Those two capacities interact in lots of interesting ways that we think can help make sense of numerous quirks in intertemporal decision-making. Here’s the abstract:

We apply the perspective that metacognition and prospection underpin deliberation to various choice phenomena, including “pre-commitment”, the establishment of restraints on our future options (like when we throw away doughnuts to prevent ourselves from snacking later).

We also describe how metacognition is what makes prospection recursive. Humans “anticipate anticipating”, like when we worry about worrying. This means we don’t only anticipate the value of a future event, but we also take into account how we will feel in the lead-up to it. This leads us to “get things over with”, like a dentist’s appointment, when we know we will otherwise be dreading it for weeks.