Abstract

If the tendency to discount rewards reflects individuals' general level of impulsiveness, then the discounting of delayed and probabilistic rewards should be negatively correlated: The less a person is able to wait for delayed rewards, the more they should take chances on receiving probabilistic rewards. It has been suggested that damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC) increases individuals' impulsiveness, but both intertemporal choice and risky choice have only recently been assayed in the same patients with vMPFC damage. Here, we assess both delay and probability discounting in individuals with vMPFC damage (n = 8) or with medial temporal lobe (MTL) damage (n = 10), and in age- and education-matched controls (n = 30). On average, MTL-lesioned individuals discounted delayed rewards at normal rates but discounted probabilistic rewards more shallowly than controls. In contrast, vMPFC-lesioned individuals discounted delayed rewards more steeply but probabilistic rewards more shallowly than controls. These results suggest that vMPFC lesions affect the weighting of reward amount relative to delay and certainty in opposite ways. Moreover, whereas MTL-lesioned individuals and controls showed typical, nonsignificant correlations between the discounting of delayed and probabilistic rewards, vMPFC-lesioned individuals showed a significant negative correlation, as would be expected if vMPFC damage increases impulsiveness more in some patients than in others. Although these results are consistent with the hypothesis that vMPFC plays a role in impulsiveness, it is unclear how they could be explained by a single mechanism governing valuation of both delayed and probabilistic rewards.

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