Rationalizing Decision-Making: Understanding the Cost and Perception of Time


  • Vijay Mohan K. Namboodiri Department of Neuroscience, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  • Stefan Mihalas The Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle, WA
  • Marshall G. H. Shuler Department of Neuroscience, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD


intertemporal decision-making, time, time perception, temporal discounting, subjective value, impulsivity, Optimal Foraging Theory, Ecological Rationality Theory, hyperbolic discounting, Discounted Utility Theory, Scalar Expectancy Theory


Humans, as with other animals, decide between courses of action based on the evaluation of the relative worth of expected outcomes. How outcome magnitude interacts with temporal delay, however, has yet eluded a principled understanding that reconciles the breadth of well-established behaviors in intertemporal decision-making. Here, we review the history of this endeavor to rationalize decision-making regarding the domain of time, highlighting extant theories, their limitations, and recent experimental and theoretical advances. These new advances recast long presumed deficiencies in observed decision-making behavior, not as flaws, but rather as signs of optimal decision-making under experiential constraints. This new conception naturally unites the fields of intertemporal decision-making and time perception, which have long been recognized to be interconnected but not yet unified in a formal framework.