Neuroeconomics integrates behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience to understand the neurobiological basis for normative and maladaptive decision making. Delay discounting is a behavioral economic index of impulsivity that reflects capacity to delay gratification and has been consistently associated with nicotine dependence. This preliminary study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine delay discounting for money and cigarette rewards in 13 nicotine dependent adults. Significant differences between preferences for smaller immediate rewards and larger delayed rewards were evident in a number of regions of interest (ROIs), including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior insular cortex, middle temporal gyrus, middle frontal gyrus, and cingulate gyrus. Significant differences between money and cigarette rewards were generally lateralized, with cigarette choices associated with left hemisphere activation and money choices associated with right hemisphere activation. Specific ROI differences included the posterior parietal cortex, medial and middle frontal gyrus, ventral striatum, temporoparietal cortex, and angular gyrus. Impulsivity as measured by behavioral choices was significantly associated with both individual ROIs and a combined ROI model. These findings provide initial evidence in support of applying a neuroeconomic approach to understanding nicotine dependence.
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