Three-Month Stability of Delay and Probability Discounting Measures

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Abstract

Psychopharmacologists are interested in delay and probability discounting because the tendency to discount the value of future and uncertain rewards has been linked with drug dependency. However, relatively little is known about the long-term stability of discounting measures typically studied in clinical psychopharmacology. To evaluate the stability of discounting over a 3-month period, the authors compared points of subjective equality (indifference points) with those collected from the same subjects 3 months earlier. Seven delay periods, ranging from 1 week to 25 years, and 7 probability values, ranging from .95 to .05, were assessed in an undergraduate sample (n = 22, delay discounting; n = 18, probability discounting). The authors examined both differential stability (stability of individual differences) and absolute stability (stability of the group mean) of delay and probability discounting measures as well as their respective indifference points. The results demonstrate that standard delay and probability discounting parameters (e.g., hyperbolic k and area under the curve) had both differential stability and absolute stability across 3 months. Moreover, most indifference points in the delay and probability discounting tasks demonstrated both differential and absolute stability. All together, these results suggest that delay and probability parameters are stable enough to predict future behavior, such as substance abuse. Additional findings indicated that a hyperbolic function fitted the data better than an exponential function and that delay and probability discounting parameters were not significantly correlated.

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