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Decisions on when to act are critical in many real life situations. Examples include several health care, safety and security situations, where acting early or late can both result in substantial costs or losses. These decisions are dynamic and are mostly made under uncertainty. This type of decision relates to and contrasts with discrete decisions, which have been studied extensively in terms of people’s systematic deviations from utility-maximizing norms, or in other words, biases.

In this dissertation, a game is introduced as a platform to study timing decisions. Impatience induced by delays is investigated as a bias affecting timing decisions, and is successfully manipulated and moderated. Seven experiments are presented. The first experiment (N = 73) suggested that a tendency to act early affects timing decisions. This experiment also indicated that the relative importance of the effects of impatience and risk propensity on such decisions changes based on proficiency in tasks and task duration. The second experiment (N = 123) confirmed existence of an impatience bias. The third experiment (N = 701) showed that impatience induced by delays: (1) affects timing decisions in the subsequent tasks, (2) increases a tendency to receive information faster, only for a few seconds, with cost and no gains, and (3) reduces subsequent task satisfaction. Furthermore, impatience is successfully manipulated and significantly moderated using fast countdowns. Experiment 4 (N = 304) showed that the mechanism behind this impatience moderation is altered time perception, and presented trade-offs between delay perception and delay recall. Experiment 5 (N = 538) investigated a wider range of feedback speeds, replicated the results of Experiments 2 and 3, and provided insights and trade-offs for user interface design. Experiments 6 (N = 113) and 7 (N = 294) investigated how actions that save one’s time by making others wait, i.e., impatience acts, are perceived, and asked whether people are sensitive to the total cost, taking both number of people involved in the scenarios and the imposed time cost into account. Results showed that people are rationally sensitive to group sizes, but total cost is perceived differently depending on existing norms for the scenario.

Furthermore, gender differences in expression of impatience and implications for user interface design are discussed, and the results suggested that impatience may reduce as people get older. These findings are valuable as they contribute to understanding human biases and decision-making, and provide insights on how to properly design feedback for user interfaces. A precise picture of how biases influence timing decisions will be of interest for designing tutoring systems and for training people whose successful, rational decision-making is necessary in domains such as personal health, national security, or public safety.

Chapter 1

Introduction and Objectives

1.1      Introduction

Several types of real-world decisions involve choosing the right time to act. In many safety, security, and health care related situations, people face trade-offs between acting and postponing the action, as each has inherent costs, benefits and risks. For example, when should someone undergo medical screening? How often should a company check its smoke detectors and water sprinklers? When should a driver change lanes on a busy highway? How often should one change passwords for security? Such situations reflect the importance of decisions on when to act as opposed to what to do. In these situations, acting rationally depends on finding the right time to act. This dissertation investigates the effect of impatience on decisions on when to act, when there is a cost for the action, and a cost resulting from acting too early or late.

Decision-making is well known to be affected by biases and individual characteristics (e.g., [107] ). It is reasonable to expect that the dynamic nature of timing decisions leads to additional biases that do not exist when the strategy space is discrete. Another challenge is that time is experienced differently for different people and in different situations. People do not perceive time objectively, which can lead to over-estimating time intervals, especially in impulsive individuals [112] . This can result in impatience, which makes timing decisions more challenging for some people. Time perception can be influenced by several factors such as attention level [11, 99] , activity level, or information processing. For example, information processing requires attentional resources. Thus when processing significant amounts of information (similar to when doing a high level of activity) fewer resources are left for time estimation. This can lead to paying less attention to the passing of time [5, 60] . As a result, time is perceived to pass faster. That is an explanation for why a person who is waiting in a line perceives the passing of time to be slower as compared to someone who is working hard before an important deadline [8, 11, 79] .

Furthermore, delays can have negative emotional and behavioral consequences and worsen performance, productivity, and even work satisfaction [101] . They can also lead to errors [32] . Therefore, this dissertation investigates the possibility of animpatience bias affecting timing decisions. The hypothesis is that impatience caused by delays can affect decision-making. If it is true, it would be important to find approaches to moderated it, as this moderation would be beneficial in several aspects of life (e.g., security, health, and satisfaction). I show that impatience is in fact a bias affecting such decisions, and propose methods to moderate this bias. The findings of this dissertation enable us to better understand humans’ decisionmaking. With impatience being the focus of this dissertation, the findings also contribute to human-computer interaction, as it provides a user interface designer with valuable insights on how to choose the appropriate form of feedback, when delays are expected.

A review of the existing literature indicates that there is no formal definition for impatience, especially in the context of decision-making. The effect of impatience on decision-making has mostly been studied in the context of temporal discounting, specifically in situations where people have to choose between receiving an amount of money immediately or receiving a larger amount later. Due to temporal discounting, or what is argued to be impatience, people prefer to receive the reward sooner, as opposed to waiting for a larger reward.

I believe that the effect of impatience on decision-making is not thoroughly explained by temporal discounting, because: (a) impatience is only one factor among many other factors (e.g., time-sensitivity [28] or even need for money) that affect temporal discounting [28, 31, 108] , (b) temporal discounting is challenging in nature due to the inherent difficulty to accurately perceive events that are distant in time [64] , and (c) it is empirically shown that when the options of early and late rewards are both delayed equally, people’s choice changes to the latter option [56] , while impatience should always cause people to prefer the earlier option. These differences are discussed in more details in the next chapter.

As a result, it is instructive to examine the informal use of the term impatience. The Oxford English Dictionary defines impatience as ”the feeling of being annoyed or irritated by somebody/something, especially because you have to wait for a long time”, and ”the desire to do something soon, or for something to happen soon”. The second part of the latter definition is used in the literature on temporal discounting, where people’s preference of choosing an earlier options (with lower rewards) among a set of options is well investigated. I relate and compare impatience to intertemporal discounting in detail in the next chapter. I search for evidence in support of each of these three elements of impatience, all of which can be seen as an effect of impatience on people’s behavior and decision-making based on the results of this dissertation.

I study and control impatience using variations of a timing game with multiple rounds. Each round of the game simulates decisions that are made in real life, including but not limited to decisions on security, safely, or health-care (examples of which are mentioned above). The game, which is inspired by a timing game called the FlipIt – game of “stealthy takeover” [109] , is described in details in Chapter 3. Furthermore, I investigate how impatience bias can be moderated to improve decision-making. The mechanism behind this moderation is studied in this dissertation.

Finally, impatience does not only affect the decision-maker. Sometimes an impatience act can affect others as well. For example, someone that stops in the middle of a street to pick up a friend (instead of driving to a location close by, where he/she can park) affects those drivers behind him/her. Someone who reopens an elevator takes time, even if only a few seconds, from those waiting inside. Literature on moral decision-making has well addressed the situations in which the cost is either monetary or humans’ lives. Studying time as a cost, however, has seen relatively limited attention, despite the fact that such decisions are very common in daily life. This dissertation also investigates how actions in such situations (which can be caused as a result of impatience) are perceived by people.

1.2       Research Goal

This research investigates impatience, as a bias affecting people’s decisions on timing of actions, and their satisfaction. In this dissertation, impatience in decisionmaking is studied from two different points of view: (1) how impatience affects timing decisions, how to moderate it, and what the mechanisms are, and (2) how people perceive the morality of actions that can be as a result of impatience. The effects of individual differences such as gender and age on impatience are investigated, and as delays are inevitable in many systems or interfaces, the implications for HCI and user interface design are discussed.

1.3        Summary of Contributions

The findings of this dissertation contribute to understanding human decisionmaking, and provide insights about how to modify user interfaces to moderate impatience caused by delays, as well as how to improve people’s decision-making and satisfaction by providing an appropriate feedback. A game is introduced in this dissertation, which provides a platform for studying timing decisions. Findings of this dissertation show that:

  • Impatience is a factor affecting timing decisions. It is independent from an individual’s risk propensity.
  • The relative effects of risk propensity and impatience on timing decisions change based on one’s proficiency in the task and the duration of the task.
  • Impatience caused by a delay can be manipulated and moderated, which has consequences for subsequent decision-making, as well as for task satisfaction. A faster countdown shown during an equally-long waiting period significantly improves people’s subsequent choices and satisfaction.
  • Speed of countdown shown during a delay affects time perception. Time seems to pass faster when seeing a faster countdown. However, there is a trade-off when deciding on the appropriate feedback speed, as delay accompanied by faster countdowns will be later recalled as longer. Trade-offs in user interface design are discussed in Chapter 9.
  • Fast countdowns not only affect delay perception and delay recall, but also affect how the duration after the delay is recalled.
  • Two effects are identified as a consequence of the impatience bias on timing choices. First is a tendency to act early or more frequently, and the second is a tendency to receive information early, if only for a few seconds, at cost, and with no gain. Both effects are significantly affected by the countdown speed and moderating impatience results in choices that are closer to a rational model.
  • Impatience seems to be expressed differently by men and women, but is moderated by a faster countdown, regardless of gender.
  • A follow-up question regarding speeding up the feedback is investigated, which suggests that faster feedback is beneficial but has its limits. After passing a limit, the momentary perception and decision-making in the task following the delay are not improved further, even though delay duration’s recall is increased.
  • People’s perception of actions that save one’s time, but impose time cost on a group of people (which can be seen as an act of impatience) is investigated. Results show that people are sensitive to the number of people who are made waiting by the action, as well as the waiting time. The cost of such actions are perceived differently depending on the nature of the scenario.
  • Results of the Experiments, discussed in this dissertation, suggest that impatience and time perception are affected by age. As age increases, people seem to become more patient.

1.4        Structure of the Dissertation

Chapter 2 provides a review of the literature, covering the theories and related works that back up and motivate this research. Decision-making, human biases, rationality, time perception, gender differences in decision-making, temporal discounting, and benefits of using Amazon Mechanical Turk as a platform are discussed in Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 introduces the games that are designed and used in this dissertation. It also provides a comparison between the game introduced in this dissertation and the other existing timing games.

Chapter 4 presents the first experiment of this dissertation, which investigates the effect of risk propensity on timing decisions. A tendency to act early (hypothesized as impatience) is proposed as a personal trait affecting timing decisions. The relative importance of these two effects are investigated.

Chapter 5 introduces the second experiment, using which the effect of impatience on decision-making is confirmed.

Chapter 6 presents the third experiment. As several factors can affect people’s time perception, the third experiment investigates whether it is possible to alter people’s time perception and make them more patient, and as a result, decrease the effect of impatience on decision making. To do so, countdowns with different speeds are used to moderate impatience. This chapter investigates in more details how decision-making is affected by impatience.

Chapter 7 introduces the fourth experiment, investigates how time perception is affected by countdown speed, and asks whether the observed impatience moderation is as a result of altered time perception. Delay and task duration recalls are measured using the Verbal Estimation method.

Chapter 8 investigates the existence of gender differences in reflecting impatience, which is suggested by the results of the experiments provided in the earlier


Chapter 9 presents discussions about the implications of the findings for HCI and User Interface Design. As users face delays daily (e.g., when watching an advertisement, downloading files, or waiting for a computer scan to be completed), findings of the experiments in this dissertation provide valuable insights on how to design feedback. Chapter 9 also introduces a new experiment (experiment 5), in which feedback design for delays is further investigated.

Chapter 10 investigates the morality of actions that can be considered as impatience, and how those actions are perceived by people. Two experiments are presented in this chapter (Experiments 6 and 7) to study how people perceive actions that save one’s time by making others wait, and how cost is perceived in such situations. In other words, it studies how the appropriateness of such actions changes based on the number of people that are made waiting, and the waiting


Chapter 11 presents a general discussion, a summary of the most important conclusions drawn based on this dissertation, and provides suggestions for future work.


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