Delay Discounting – A JEAB Special Issue


The January issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is a special issue devoted to delay discounting.  What is delay discounting you might ask?  Delay discounting describes the process by which an individual forgoes a larger later reward for a smaller sooner reward.  The name implies that the value of the reward decreases, or is “discounted”, the farther into the future it goes.

As a simple test, try this.  Ask yourself if you would like $5 now or $100 in an hour.  I bet most of you would chose the $100, even though you wouldn’t get it for an hour.  But let’s change the scenario a bit — what if you could have that $5 now or the $100 next week, month, or a year from now?  At some point your preference will change such that you forego the larger reward simply because it is delayed into the future to a sufficient degree.  

This simple concept has large ramifications.  For example, addictions and impulsive behavior may be understood in terms of delay discounting — you can have that cigarette now rather than good health later, and even discount future health problems.  Or, you impulsively decide to eat that brownie now at the expense of a healthier future.   

In the special issue, researchers showcase their empirical work linking delay discounting to a myriad of issues, such as money management in teenagers, alcohol consumption, mindfulness, and much more.  If you are interested in reading more, be sure to check out the hyperlink to the issue at the top of this article.

Do you have experience with delay discounting?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

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