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PLoS One. 2014 Feb 28;9(2):e90138. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090138. eCollection 2014.

Intertemporal choice as discounted value accumulation.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.


Two separate cognitive processes are involved in choosing between rewards available at different points in time. The first is temporal discounting, which consists of combining information about the size and delay of prospective rewards to represent subjective values. The second involves a comparison of available rewards to enable an eventual choice on the basis of these subjective values. While several mathematical models of temporal discounting have been developed, the reward selection process has been largely unexplored. To address this limitation, we evaluated the applicability of the Linear Ballistic Accumulator (LBA) model as a theory of the selection process in intertemporal choice. The LBA model formalizes the selection process as a sequential sampling algorithm in which information about different choice options is integrated until a decision criterion is reached. We compared several versions of the LBA model to demonstrate that choice outcomes and response times in intertemporal choice are well captured by the LBA process. The relationship between choice outcomes and response times that derives from the LBA model cannot be explained by temporal discounting alone. Moreover, the drift rates that drive evidence accumulation in the best-fitting LBA model are related to independently estimated subjective values derived from various temporal discounting models. These findings provide a quantitative framework for predicting dynamics of choice-related activity during the reward selection process in intertemporal choice and link intertemporal choice to other classes of decisions in which the LBA model has been applied.

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