People are less myopic about future than past collective outcomes

Markus Prior, Abdelaziz Alsharawy, Talbot M. Andrews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Myopia involves giving disproportionate weight to outcomes that occur close to the present. Myopia in people's evaluations of political outcomes and proposals threatens effective policymaking. It can lead to inefficient spending just before elections, cause inaction on important future policy challenges, and create incentives for government interventions aimed at boosting short-term performance at the expense of long-term welfare. But, are people generally myopic? Existing evidence comes mostly from studies that disregard either the future or collective outcomes. Political science characterizes people as myopic based on how they retrospectively evaluate collective outcomes, such as the state of the economy. Behavioral economics and psychology find that people make myopic choices involving future individual outcomes, such as money or personal health. To characterize myopia more generally, we offer two innovations: First, we adapt measurement approaches from behavioral economics and psychology to precisely gauge myopia over politically relevant collective outcomes. Second, we estimate myopia using the same approach for collective political outcomes in both past and future. We conduct two surveys on three different samples (including a large probability-based sample) asking respondents to evaluate national conditions randomly described as past or future while holding constant the domain, information about conditions, and the elicitation method. Results show that prospective evaluations are significantly less myopic than retrospective evaluations. People are often not myopic at all when looking to the future. This surprising pattern calls for more research to probe its robustness and spell out how low prospective myopia might lead to forward-looking policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2310050120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • economic conditions
  • intertemporal choice
  • myopia
  • political attitudes
  • temporal discounting


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