Human civilization is based on the successful pursuit of long-term goals, requiring the ability to forego immediate pleasure for the sake of larger future rewards. This ability improves with age, but the precise cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying its development remain elusive. The developmental changes could result either from younger children valuing immediate rewards more strongly or because older children become better at controlling their impulses. By implementing 2 tasks, a choice-independent valuation task and an intertemporal choice task, both behaviorally and using fMRI in twenty 6- to 13-year old children, we show developmental improvements in behavioral control to uniquely account for age-related changes in temporal discounting. We show further that overcoming temptation during childhood occurs as a function of an age-related increase in functional coupling between value signals in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and brain regions dedicated to behavioral control, such as left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during choice. These findings can help to devise measures that reduce the substantial costs of impatience to society.
Keywords: behavioral control; child development; functional development of DLPFC; intertemporal choice; valuation.
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