Preference for immediate over delayed rewards is associated with magnitude of ventral striatal activity.
Discounting future outcomes as a function of their deferred availability underlies much of human decision making. Discounting, or preference for immediate over delayed rewards of larger value, is often associated with impulsivity and is a risk factor for addictive disorders such as pathological gambling, cigarette smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse. The ventral striatum (VS) is involved in mediating behavioral responses and physiological states associated with reward, and dysregulation of the VS contributes to addiction, perhaps by affecting impulsive decision-making. Behavioral tests of delay discounting (DD), which index preference for smaller immediate over larger delayed rewards, covary with impulsive tendencies in humans. In the current study, we examined the relationship between individual differences in DD, measured in a behavioral assessment, and VS activity measured with blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging, in 45 adult volunteers. VS activity was determined using a task involving positive and negative feedback with monetary reward. Analyses revealed that individual differences in DD correlate positively with magnitude of VS activation in response to both positive and negative feedback, compared with a no-feedback control condition. Variability in DD was also associated with differential VS activation in response to positive, compared with negative, feedback. Collectively, our results suggest that increased preference for smaller immediate over larger delayed rewards reflects both a relatively indiscriminate and hyper-reactive VS circuitry. They also highlight a specific neurocognitive mechanism that may contribute to increased risk for addiction.