Developmental trajectories of delay discounting from childhood to young adulthood: longitudinal associations and test-retest reliability

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Delay discounting (DD) indexes an individual's preference for smaller immediate rewards over larger delayed rewards, and is considered a form of cognitive impulsivity. Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated that DD peaks in adolescence; longitudinal studies are needed to validate this putative developmental trend, and to determine whether DD assesses a temporary state, or reflects a more stable behavioral trait. In this study, 140 individuals aged 9–23 completed a delay discounting (DD) task and cognitive battery at baseline and every-two years thereafter, yielding five assessments over approximately 10 years. Models fit with the inverse effect of age best approximated the longitudinal trajectory of two DD measures, hyperbolic discounting (log[k]) and area under the indifference-point curve (AUC). Discounting of future rewards increased rapidly from childhood to adolescence and appeared to plateau in late adolescence for both models of DD. Participants with greater verbal intelligence and working memory displayed reduced DD across the duration of the study, suggesting a functional interrelationship between these domains and DD from early adolescence to adulthood. Furthermore, AUC demonstrated good to excellent reliability across assessment points that was superior to log(k), with both measures demonstrating acceptable stability once participants reached late adolescence. The developmental trajectories of DD we observed from childhood through young adulthood suggest that DD may index cognitive control more than reward sensitivity, and that despite modest developmental changes with maturation, AUC may be conceptualized as a trait variable related to cognitive control vs impulsivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101518
JournalCognitive Psychology
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant R01DA017843 awarded to ML, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grant R01AA020033 awarded to ML.SDK was supported by National Institute of Drug Abuse T32DA050560. We also acknowledge support from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Neurobehavioral Development. We thank Dr. Steven Malone, Dr. Brandon Almy and Hannah Weiss for discussions regarding the analysis plan. Lastly, we sincerely thank the adolescents/adults and their families for their participation across the duration of the study, as well as all the research assistants who helped collect the data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Adolescence
  • Cognitive control
  • Cognitive development
  • Delay discounting
  • Impulsivity
  • Longitudinal analysis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Developmental trajectories of delay discounting from childhood to young adulthood: longitudinal associations and test-retest reliability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this