Personality influences temporal discounting preferences: behavioral and brain evidence

Neuroimage. 2014 Sep:98:42-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.04.066. Epub 2014 May 2.


Personality traits are stable predictors of many life outcomes that are associated with important decisions that involve tradeoffs over time. Therefore, a fundamental question is how tradeoffs over time vary from person to person in relation to stable personality traits. We investigated the influence of personality, as measured by the Five-Factor Model, on time preferences and on neural activity engaged by intertemporal choice. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants made choices between smaller-sooner and larger-later monetary rewards. For each participant, we estimated a constant-sensitivity discount function that dissociates impatience (devaluation of future consequences) from time sensitivity (consistency with rational, exponential discounting). Overall, higher neuroticism was associated with a relatively greater preference for immediate rewards and higher conscientiousness with a relatively greater preference for delayed rewards. Specifically, higher conscientiousness correlated positively with lower short-term impatience and more exponential time preferences, whereas higher neuroticism (lower emotional stability) correlated positively with higher short-term impatience and less exponential time preferences. Cognitive-control and reward brain regions were more activated when higher conscientiousness participants selected a smaller-sooner reward and, conversely, when higher neuroticism participants selected a larger-later reward. The greater activations that occurred when choosing rewards that contradicted personality predispositions may reflect the greater recruitment of mental resources needed to override those predispositions. These findings reveal that stable personality traits fundamentally influence how rewards are chosen over time.

Keywords: Decision making; Delayed discounting; Personality; Reward; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality*
  • Reward
  • Young Adult