This paper provides a new and more robust test of the descriptive validity of the constant rate discounted utility model in medical decision analysis. The constant rate discounted utility model is compared with two competing theories, Harvey's (1986) proportional discounting model and Loewenstein and Prelec's (1992) hyperbolic discounting model. To compare the various intertemporal models, previous studies on intertemporal preferences for health assumed a specific parametric form of the utility function for life-years and no discounting within the time periods that health states are experienced. The present study avoids such confounding assumptions by focusing on the axiomatic structure of the discounting models. The present study further differs by using choices instead of matching to elicit intertemporal preferences. The experimental results provide support for decreasing timing aversion, the condition underlying the proportional and the hyperbolic discounting model, but they violate stationarity, the central condition of the constant rate discounted utility model. There is some ambiguity whether the violations of stationarity are primarily caused by an immediacy effect. The results confirm violations of stationarity in choice-based elicitations tasks, in contrast with the results from Ahlbrecht and Weber (1997) which supported stationarity in choices over monetary outcomes.

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Journal of Mathematical Psychology
Erasmus School of Economics

Bleichrodt, H., & Johannesson, M. (2001). Time Preference for Health: A Test of Stationarity versus Decreasing Timing Aversion. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 45(2), 265–282. doi:10.1006/jmps.2000.1312