Age-related differences in discounting future gains and losses

Kameko Halfmann, William Hedgcock, Natalie L. Denburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


When asked to choose between immediate versus future gains, individuals tend to fast-track benefits and, congruently, they tend to delay costs. But, despite the everincreasing importance of the topic, few studies have investigated this behavior among senior citizens. The handful of studies that have been conducted have produced conflicting results and focused on gains as opposed to losses. These conflicting results may in part be due to demographic confounds and the inherent variability that comes with aging. Here, demographic confounds and variability due to aging were minimized by studying three groups: middle-aged, unimpaired older, and impaired older adults. Participants were asked to choose between soonersmaller and laterlarger monetary rewards and losses. Results indicated that impaired older adults discounted the future more than unimpaired older adults. Interestingly, middle-aged adults discounted future gains at a similar rate as impaired older adults, but discounted future losses less than impaired older adults (and similarly to unimpaired older adults). This may suggest that unimpaired older adults have developed a compensatory mechanism that leads to more cautious, patient choices. We discuss these results in the context of the neurobiology and neuropsychology of aging and decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-54
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by a Dana Foundation Program in Brain and Immuno-Imaging grant to NLD.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 American Psychological Association.


  • Aging
  • Loss
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Reward
  • Temporal discounting


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