Intelligence and time preference

The article below brings up a belief* that I have (which is no doubt unoriginal): the reason intelligent people do better in life is not (directly) because of intelligence, but because they have lower rates of time preference. Intelligent people plan better, are more patient, and are more likely to sacrifice rewards in the present for much greater rewards in a remote future. Less intelligent people are more impulsive, unable to plan wisely, and don't see the ramifications of their actions as clearly.

As examples, a less intelligent person, when in an opportunity to committ a crime, might only lightly factor in his decision the long years in jail if he gets caught. Or caught in the heat of the moment without birth control, might not take into account the full consequences of having a child relative to the pleasure gained in the immediate from unprotected sex. Or given the choice between putting in years of college for a higher paying job in the future vs working immediately for a lower paying job, choose the latter.


*A belief based solely on life experience and observations, not on controlled, randomized, blinded, prospective studies.

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It's a fairly common view,

It's a fairly common view, but there is a twist I like to add to it.

Less intelligent people learn to have a low time preference. Imagine a crazy guy with an orange. Instead of eating the orange, he decides he will wait a week so that the orange magically produces baby oranges. A week later, the orange is completely rotten, the guy has lost an orange and of course there are no baby oranges. Next time, the crazy guy will eat the orange immediately, because he has learned he is bad at predicting the way events turn out.

This does not directly explain why less intelligent people would have a low time preference for saving of money (nothing really bad can happen to you if you save mone, you lose inflation at worst) but it does explain a specific set of mind. Consume what you have now, because you now you're not able to do anything significant with it.

Saving doesn't necesseraly have to be productive, we can save for the sole purpose of deferred enjoyment, but productive saving (not finishing your Auroch steak to get fish baiting the following day) may be what teaches us saving.


Well, my personal anecdotal evidence indicates almost exactly the opposite. A friend of mine has about average intelligence but is a very talented organizer. Whereas I struggle daily with my procrastination habit, irrespective of my higher achievements at IQ tests.

The cause could be a social one, though. Intelligent kids get used to overachieving without much toil, and it's hard to re-learn habits later in life.

I suspect that intelligence

I suspect that intelligence is positively related to future time orientation in a way that's not related to logical reasoning but rather through some biological process.