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BMC Neurosci. 2006 Jun 23;7:52.

Delay aversion but preference for large and rare rewards in two choice tasks: implications for the measurement of self-control parameters.

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  • 1Behavioural Neuroscience Section, Dept, Cell Biology & Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy.



Impulsivity is defined as intolerance/aversion to waiting for reward. In intolerance-to-delay (ID) protocols, animals must choose between small/soon (SS) versus large/late (LL) rewards. In the probabilistic discount (PD) protocols, animals are faced with choice between small/sure (SS) versus large/luck-linked (LLL) rewards. It has been suggested that PD protocols also measure impulsivity, however, a clear dissociation has been reported between delay and probability discounting.


Wistar adolescent rats (30- to 46-day-old) were tested using either protocol in drug-free state. In the ID protocol, animals showed a marked shift from LL to SS reward when delay increased, and this despite adverse consequences on the total amount of food obtained. In the PD protocol, animals developed a stable preference for LLL reward, and maintained it even when SS and LLL options were predicted and demonstrated to become indifferent. We demonstrate a clear dissociation between these two protocols. In the ID task, the aversion to delay was anti-economical and reflected impulsivity. In the PD task, preference for large reward was maintained despite its uncertain delivery, suggesting a strong attraction for unitary rewards of great magnitude.


Uncertain delivery generated no aversion, when compared to delays producing an equivalent level of large-reward rarefaction. The PD task is suggested not to reflect impulsive behavior, and to generate patterns of choice that rather resemble the features of gambling. In summary, present data do indicate the need to interpret choice behavior in ID and PD protocols differently.

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