Effect of Affective Content and Time Perspective of Episodic Thinking on Delay Discounting (Completed 2013)
Deciding among behaviors that have disparate immediate and future consequences is a part of everyday life. When making these intertemporal choices, some people forego smaller immediate gains for larger delayed benefits, while others choose immediate gratification at great expense to future outcomes. Delay discounting (DD) – the tendency to devalue future rewards as a function of temporal distance – provides a measure of the ability to delay gratification. High DD, or impulsivity, has been associated with adverse health conditions characterized by the maladaptive consumption of reinforcers, such as substance dependence and obesity. Prospection via episodic future thinking (EFT) – the mental simulation of future events, including autobiographical, emotional and circumstantial details – has been shown to reduce DD. However, in these studies, participants visualized positive future events or reported EFT as being emotionally intense. Whether EFT decreases delay discounting by contextualizing delayed rewards or by increasing their emotional salience thus remains unclear. In addition, impulsivity may be in part a heritable trait, stemming from deficits in information integration, inhibitory control and reward valuation processes related to functional genetic polymorphisms. The efficacy of EFT in attenuating DD among individuals genetically predisposed toward impulsivity is also unknown. Identifying the functional component of EFT and assessing its effect on DD among carriers of genetic polymorphisms associated with impulsivity may contribute toward clarifying the mechanisms of intertemporal decision-making as well as the development of behavioral therapies for impulsivity.