Delay of gratification and delay discounting in rats

Behav Processes. 2002 Sep 30;59(3):157. doi: 10.1016/s0376-6357(02)00088-8.


Delay discounting (DD) and delay of gratification (DG) are two measures of impulsive behavior often viewed as reflecting the same or equivalent processes. However, there are some key differences in the contingencies of reinforcement between the procedures that may have implications for understanding impulsivity. This study used DD and DG procedures to determine if differences in contingencies of reinforcement specified by DD and DG alters how much organisms discount the value of delayed reinforcers. Twenty-four water-deprived rats performed one of two Adjusting Amount procedures, which consisted of repeated choices between a fixed amount of water (250 &mgr;l) delivered after a delay (0, 4, 8, 16, or 32 s) and an adjusting, usually lesser amount delivered immediately. Half of the rats (n=12) performed a DD procedure designed to assess preference for immediate over delayed reinforcers in which they had discrete choices between the immediate and delayed amounts of water. A DG procedure was used for the other half of the rats (n=12). In the DG procedure rats also selected between immediate and delayed alternatives, but if they chose the delayed alternative they could switch to and receive the immediate alternative at any time during the delay to the larger reward. In the DD procedure switching responses were not reinforced but were still recorded and used for analyses. The DD functions of the two groups did not differ significantly. However, at the longer delays, the DG group made significantly fewer switching responses than the DD group. A possible role of response inhibition in the DG procedure is discussed.