An overview of Bayesian reasoning in the analysis of delay-discounting data

Christopher T. Franck, Mikhail N. Koffarnus, Todd L. McKerchar, Warren K. Bickel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Statistical inference (including interval estimation and model selection) is increasingly used in the analysis of behavioral data. As with many other fields, statistical approaches for these analyses traditionally use classical (i.e., frequentist) methods. Interpreting classical intervals and p-values correctly can be burdensome and counterintuitive. By contrast, Bayesian methods treat data, parameters, and hypotheses as random quantities and use rules of conditional probability to produce direct probabilistic statements about models and parameters given observed study data. In this work, we reanalyze two data sets using Bayesian procedures. We precede the analyses with an overview of the Bayesian paradigm. The first study reanalyzes data from a recent study of controls, heavy smokers, and individuals with alcohol and/or cocaine substance use disorder, and focuses on Bayesian hypothesis testing for covariates and interval estimation for discounting rates among various substance use disorder profiles. The second example analyzes hypothetical environmental delay-discounting data. This example focuses on using historical data to establish prior distributions for parameters while allowing subjective expert opinion to govern the prior distribution on model preference. We review the subjective nature of specifying Bayesian prior distributions but also review established methods to standardize the generation of priors and remove subjective influence while still taking advantage of the interpretive advantages of Bayesian analyses. We present the Bayesian approach as an alternative paradigm for statistical inference and discuss its strengths and weaknesses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-251
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior


  • Bayesian statistics
  • delay discounting
  • prior distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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