Brain activations reflect individual discount rates in intertemporal choice

Josep Marco-Pallarés, Bahram Mohammadi, Amir Samii, Thomas F. Münte*

*Corresponding author for this work
34 Citations (Scopus)


Humans discount the value of future rewards following a hyperbolic function and thus may prefer a smaller immediate reward over a larger delayed reward. Marked interindividual differences in the steepness of this discounting function can be observed which can be quantified by the parameter k of the discount function. Here, we asked how differences in delay discounting behaviour are reflected by brain activation patterns. Sixteen healthy participants were studied in a slow event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment at 3 T. In each trial, participants had to decide between a smaller but immediately available monetary reward (ranging between 14 and 84 Euro) and a larger delayed reward (26 to 89 Euro; delay 5 to 169 days) by button press. Participants had the chance to receive the reward corresponding to one of their decisions at the end of the experiment. As expected, participants differed widely with respect to the steepness of their discount function. By contrasting decisions at or near the individual participant's indifference point (as determined by parameter k) with trials either well below or well above this point two different brain networks with opposing activation patterns were revealed: Trials below or above the indifference point were associated with activation in the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, whereas decisions at the indifference point gave rise to activation in medial prefrontal cortex. The opposite effects in the two systems at individual indifference point were interpreted as a reflection of response conflict.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain Research
Pages (from-to)123-129
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 12.03.2010

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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