Organisms ‘discount the future’ when they value imminent goods over future goods. Optimal discounting varies: selection should favour allocations of effort that effectively discount the future relatively steeply in response to cues promising relatively good returns on present efforts. However, research on human discounting has hitherto focused on stable individual differences rather than situational effects.
In two experiments, discounting was assessed on the basis of choices between a smaller sum of money tomorrow and a larger sum at a later date, both before and after subjects rated the ‘appeal’ of 12 photographs. In experiment 1, men and women saw either attractive or unattractive opposite–sex faces; in experiment 2, participants saw more or less appealing cars. As predicted, discounting increased significantly in men who viewed attractive women, but not in men who viewed unattractive women or women who viewed men; viewing cars produced a different pattern of results.