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J Neurosci. 2009 Jul 8;29(27):8839-46. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5319-08.2009.

Congruence of BOLD response across intertemporal choice conditions: fictive and real money gains and losses.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205, USA.


Intertemporal choice is predicated on the valuation of commodities with respect to delay until their receipt. Subjective value of a future outcome decreases, or is discounted, as a function of that delay (Bickel and Johnson, 2003). Although behavioral studies suggest no difference between the devaluation of real and fictive outcomes, no neuroimaging studies have investigated potential differences in the underlying deliberative process. Here, we compare behavioral and neural correlates of intertemporal valuation of real and hypothetical monetary gains as well as hypothetical losses, which have been posited to involve different mechanisms. Behavioral and neuroimaging sessions were conducted in which participants made intertemporal choice decisions in a gains condition using both real and hypothetical $100 money and in a loss condition using a fictive $100 money. Within-subject comparison of behavioral data revealed no significant difference between levels of discounting across the three conditions. Random-effects analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data of each of the three discounting conditions independently revealed significant signal change in limbic (anterior cingulate, striatum, posterior cingulate) and executive functioning areas (lateral prefrontal cortex), whereas a repeated-measures ANOVA failed to detect differences in signal change across the three discounting conditions after correcting for multiple comparisons. These data support a concordance between real and hypothetical conditions from delay-discounting studies and further suggest a congruence of the fMRI blood oxygen level-dependent signal across brain regions associated with the deliberative process of different forms of intertemporal choice.

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