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J Behav Med. 2013 Feb;36(1):34-43. doi: 10.1007/s10865-012-9399-z. Epub 2012 Feb 7.

Preference for immediate reinforcement over delayed reinforcement: relation between delay discounting and health behavior.

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Department of Psychology, West Virginia University, 53 Campus Drive, 1212 Life Sciences Building, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA.


Reinforcement from engaging in health behaviors is often delayed by several months or years, a circumstance partly responsible for some people's increased preference for engaging in unhealthy behaviors associated with immediate reinforcement. To examine whether individuals who discount the future engage in fewer health behaviors, 72 young adults completed questionnaires assessing health behaviors and impulsiveness and laboratory-behavioral measures of impulsive decision making. Regression analyses of impulsivity measures predicting health behavior were only significant for one measure, the Experiential Discounting Task, a task in which monetary consequences of choice were actually experienced by study participants. Participants who discounted most by delay (i.e., exhibited impulsive choice) engaged in fewer health behaviors than those who showed less impulsive responding. This task, in contrast to a hypothetical choice task or self-reported impulsiveness, measures the actual behavior of discounting by delay, and was the facet of impulsive decision making most closely associated with adopting a range of health behaviors.

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