Is future bias a manifestation of the temporal value asymmetry?

Philosophical Psychology (forthcoming)
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Future-bias is the preference, all else being equal, for positive states of affairs to be located in the future not the past, and for negative states of affairs to be located in the past not the future. Three explanations for future-bias have been posited: the temporal metaphysics explanation, the practical irrelevance explanation, and the three mechanisms explanation. Understanding what explains future-bias is important not only for better understanding the phenomenon itself, but also because many philosophers think that which explanation is the correct one has implications for our evaluation of the normative status of future-bias. In this paper we focus on the connection between future-bias and the temporal value asymmetry. The latter refers to the fact that people tend to assign more value to a state of affairs when it is located in the future, as opposed to being equidistant in the past. All three candidate explanations offered for future-bias proceed by explaining the temporal value asymmetry, and then supposing that future-bias is simply a manifestation of that asymmetry. Recently, however, it has been argued that the conditions under which people display the temporal value asymmetry and future-bias are different, and that this is reason to doubt that the latter is a manifestation of the former. In this paper we empirically test one response to this argument against the manifestation thesis—the simulation response—according to which once we control for the degree to which people can simulate the object of their preference, we find that people display future-bias and the temporal value asymmetry in the same conditions. We find no evidence in favour of the simulation response. Moreover, our results support some previous research that suggests that the temporal value asymmetry is less robust than previously thought, and this in itself casts doubt on the idea that future bias is just a manifestation of this asymmetry.

Author Profiles

Andrew James Latham
Aarhus University
Kristie Miller
University of Sydney


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