A Developmental Perspective on Neuroeconomic Mechanisms of Contingency Management


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Abstract

This paper provides a developmental overview of relevant theory and research on delay discounting and neuroeconomics, and their implications for contingency management (CM) approaches to treatment. Recent advances in the neuroscience of decision making have the potential to inform treatment development for adolescent substance use in general, and CM treatments in particular. CM interventions may be informed by research on delay discounting, a type of decision making that reflects how individuals value immediate versus delayed rewards. Delay discounting reliably distinguishes substance abusers from nonabusers and is a significant predictor of individual differences in response to substance use treatments. Discounting may also be important in predicting response to CM, as CM attempts to directly influence this decision-making process, shifting the preference from the immediate rewards of use to delayed rewards for choosing not to use. Multiple neural processes underlie decision making, and those processes have implications for adolescent substance abuse. There are significant neurodevelopmental processes that differentiate adolescents from adults. These processes are implicated in delay discounting, suggesting that adolescence may reflect a period of plasticity in temporal decision making. Understanding the neural mechanisms of delay discounting has led to promising working memory interventions directly targeting the executive functions that underlie individual choices. These interventions may be particularly helpful in combination with CM interventions that offer immediate rewards for brief periods of abstinence, and may show particular benefit in adolescence due to the heightened neural plasticity of systems that underlie temporal discounting in adolescence.

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