Time-inconsistent planning: A computational problem in behavioral economics

Jon Kleinberg, Sigal Oren

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

21 Scopus citations

Abstract

In many settings, people exhibit behavior that is inconsistent across time ' we allocate a block of time to get work done and then procrastinate, or put effort into a project and then later fail to complete it. An active line of research in behavioral economics and related fields has developed and analyzed models for this type of time-inconsistent behavior. Here we propose a graph-theoretic model of tasks and goals, in which dependencies among actions are represented by a directed graph, and a time-inconsistent agent constructs a path through this graph. We first show how instances of this path-finding problem on different input graphs can reconstruct a wide range of qualitative phenomena observed in the literature on time-inconsistency, including procrastination, abandonment of long-range tasks, and the benefits of reduced sets of choices. We then explore a set of analyses that quantify over the set of all graphs; among other results, we find that in any graph, there can be only polynomially many distinct forms of time-inconsistent behavior; and any graph in which a time-inconsistent agent incurs significantly more cost than an optimal agent must contain a large 'procrastination' structure as a minor. Finally, we use this graph-theoretic model to explore ways in which tasks can be designed to help motivate agents to reach designated goals.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEC 2014 - Proceedings of the 15th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Pages547-564
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781450325653
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event15th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, EC 2014 - Palo Alto, CA, United States
Duration: 8 Jun 201412 Jun 2014

Conference

Conference15th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, EC 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityPalo Alto, CA
Period8/06/1412/06/14

Keywords

  • behavioral economics
  • present bias
  • time-inconsistency

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