Preference on cash-choice task predicts externalizing outcomes in 17-year-olds

Jordan C. Sparks, Joshua D. Isen, William G. Iacono

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19 Scopus citations


Delay-discounting, the tendency to prefer a smaller-sooner reward to a larger-later reward, has been associated with a range of externalizing behaviors. Laboratory delay-discounting tasks have emerged as a useful measure to index impulsivity and a proclivity towards externalizing pyschopathology. While many studies demonstrate the existence of a latent externalizing factor that is heritable, there have been few genetic studies of delay-discounting. Further, the increased vulnerability for risky behavior in adolescence makes adolescent samples an attractive target for future research, and expeditious, ecologically-valid delay-discounting measures are helpful in this regard. The primary goal of this study was to help validate the utility of a "cash-choice" measure for use in a sample of older adolescents. We used a sample of 17-year-old twins (n = 791) from the Minnesota Twin Family Enrichment study. Individuals who chose the smaller-sooner reward were more likely to have used a range of addictive substances, engaged in sexual intercourse, and earned lower GPAs. Best fitting biometric models from univariate analyses supported the heritability of cash-choice and externalizing, but bivariate modeling results indicated that the correlation between cash-choice and externalizing was determined largely by shared environmental influences, thus failing to support cash-choice as a possible endophenotype for externalizing in this age group. Our findings lend further support to the utility of cash-choice as a measure of individual differences in decision making and suggest that, by late adolescence, this task indexes shared environmental risk for externalizing behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-112
Number of pages11
JournalBehavior genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments Data collection was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant DA013240. Jordan Sparks was supported in part by a summer fellowship from Pearson Assessments. Joshua Isen was supported by National Institutes on Mental Health Grant T32 MH017069.


  • Adolescence
  • Delay-discounting
  • Externalizing
  • Heritability
  • Intertemporal choice


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