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Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 May;15(5):227-39. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.03.002. Epub 2011 Apr 15.

The neural mechanisms of inter-temporal decision-making: understanding variability.

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Department of Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistraße 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany.


Humans and animals prefer immediate over delayed rewards (delay discounting). This preference for smaller-but-sooner over larger-but-later rewards shows substantial interindividual variability in healthy subjects. Moreover, a strong bias towards immediate reinforcement characterizes many psychiatric conditions such as addiction and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. We discuss the neural mechanisms underlying delay discounting and describe how interindividual variability (trait effects) in the neural instantiation of subprocesses of delay discounting (such as reward valuation, cognitive control and prospection) contributes to differences in behaviour. We next discuss different interventions that can partially remedy impulsive decision-making (state effects). Although the precise neural mechanisms underlying many of these modulating influences are only beginning to be unravelled, they point towards novel treatment approaches for disorders of impulse control.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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