Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens

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Abstract

Delay of gratification (DG) is the ability to forgo immediate temptations in the service of obtaining larger, delayed rewards. An extensive body of behavioral research has revealed that DG ability in childhood is associated with a host of important outcomes throughout development, and that attentional focus away from temptations underlies this ability. In this study, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study to identify the neural underpinnings of individual differences in DG among children. We observed a relationship between behavior during the classic DG task, a well-studied and ecologically valid measure, and functional connectivity during a modified version of this task in the scanner. Specifically, greater attentional focus away from temptations was associated with stronger functional coupling between the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that supports approach behavior, and several regions within prefrontal and parietal cortex that support self-control. These results shed light on the network interactions that contribute to DG and that account for individual differences in this capacity.

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