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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(11):2092-103. Epub 2005 Nov 21.

Temporal and probabilistic discounting of rewards in children and adolescents: effects of age and ADHD symptoms.

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  • 1Psychology Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, 85721, USA. acheres@u.arizona.edu

Abstract

This study investigated whether age and ADHD symptoms affected choice preferences in children and adolescents when they chose between (1) small immediate rewards and larger delayed rewards and (2) small certain rewards and larger probabilistic uncertain rewards. A temporal discounting (TD) task and a probabilistic discounting (PD) task were used to measure the degree to which the subjective value of a large reward decreased as one had to wait longer for it (TD), and as the probability of obtaining it decreased (PD). Rewards used were small amounts of money. In the TD task, the large reward (10 cents) was delayed by between 0 and 30s, and the immediate reward varied in magnitude (0-10 cents). In the PD task, receipt of the large reward (10 cents) varied in likelihood, with probabilities of 0, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, and 1.0 used, and the certain reward varied in magnitude (0-10 cents). Age and diagnostic group did not affect the degree of PD of rewards: All participants made choices so that total gains were maximized. As predicted, young children, aged 6-11 years (n = 25) demonstrated steeper TD of rewards than adolescents, aged 12-17 years (n = 21). This effect remained significant even when choosing the immediate reward did not shorten overall task duration. This, together with the lack of interaction between TD task version and age, suggests that steeper discounting in young children is driven by reward immediacy and not by delay aversion. Contrary to our predictions, participants with ADHD (n = 22) did not demonstrate steeper TD of rewards than controls (n = 24). These results raise the possibility that strong preferences for small immediate rewards in ADHD, as found in previous research, depend on factors such as total maximum gain and the use of fixed versus varied delay durations. The decrease in TD as observed in adolescents compared to children may be related to developmental changes in the (dorsolateral) prefrontal cortex. Future research needs to investigate these possibilities.

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