Time for a Change? Brain Activity and Behavioral Performance Reveal Different Dynamics at Short, Intermediate, and Long Delay Intervals During a Delay Discounting Task

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In our day to day lives, the ability to make goal-oriented decisions plays a crucial role in both our work and social lives. As such, research has examined the role that impulsivity has played in a number of important areas of decision making, such as financial planning, choice of diet, political policy making, and even transportation safety. Understanding impulsivity is also of concern when one considers the high levels of impulse control deficiencies in a number of pathological conditions such as borderline and antisocial personality disorders as well as the likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior. In all aforementioned situations, impulsivity can be demonstrated during intertemporal choice, where individuals make a choice between a smaller and sooner (SS) reward and a larger and later (LL) reward. Here impulsivity is associated with consistently choosing a smaller sooner reward. Although time is an important dimension when individuals make decisions during delay discounting, little is known about the relationship between time perception, impulsivity, and underlying neural mechanisms. To address this gap in literature, participants completed a modified delay discounting task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Stimuli included rewards ranging from $5 to $500,000 and delays ranging from days to years. An exploratory factor analysis using behavioral data identified three categories of delays: short (days to months), intermediate (1, 2, and 5 years), and long (10 or 20 years). Contrasts comparing intermediate to short delays and long to short delays were conducted with the fMRI data. In both comparisons, areas associated with higher levels of visual attention, future-related cognition, emotional decisions, and more difficult intertemporal choices were associated with processing the relatively longer delays compared to the relatively shorter delays. This neural congruence suggests that processing rewards of both intermediate and long delays draw on common neurocognitive mechanisms.

First Advisor

Lee Baugh

Second Advisor

Kelene Fercho

Research Area

Basic Biomedical Science

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