Neural mechanisms of individual differences in temporal discounting of monetary and primary rewards in adolescents

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Abstract

Adolescents are generally characterized as impulsive. However, impulsivity is a multi-dimensional construct that involves multiple component processes. Which of these components contribute to adolescent impulsivity is currently unclear. This study focused on the neural mechanisms underlying individual differences in distinct components of temporal discounting (TD), i.e., the preference for smaller immediate rewards over larger delayed rewards. Participants were 58 adolescents (12–16 years-old) who performed an fMRI TD task with both monetary and snack rewards. Using mixed-effects modeling, we determined participants’ average impatience, and further decomposed TD choices into: 1) amount sensitivity (unique contribution of the magnitude of the immediate reward); and 2) delay sensitivity (unique contribution of delay duration). Adolescents’ average impatience was positively correlated with frontoparietal and ventral striatal activity during delayed reward choices, and with ventromedial prefrontal cortex activity during immediate reward choices. Adolescents’ amount sensitivity was positively associated with ventral striatal and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex activity during immediate reward choices. Delay sensitivity was positively correlated with inferior parietal cortex activity during delayed reward choices. As expected, snacks were discounted more steeply than money, and TD of both reward types was associated with overlapping activation in the inferior parietal cortex. Exploring whether testosterone or estradiol were associated with TD and its neural correlates revealed no significant associations. These findings indicate that distinct components contribute uniquely to TD choice and that individual differences in amount sensitivity are uniquely associated with activation of reward valuation areas, while individual differences in delay sensitivity are uniquely associated with activation of cognitive control areas.

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