Predictors of delay discounting among smokers: education level and a Utility Measure of Cigarette Reinforcement Efficacy are better predictors than demographics, smoking characteristics, executive functioning, impulsivity, or time perception

Addict Behav. 2015 Jun:45:124-33. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.01.027. Epub 2015 Jan 22.


Ninety-four smokers completed the delay discounting procedure for either hypothetical amounts of money, $10 (money) and $1000 (money) or hypothetical amounts of cigarettes ($10 and $1000 worth of cigarettes). We investigated how variables previously found to be related to rates of delay discounting accounted for the observed results. These variables included the following: demographic information, smoking characteristics, executive function abilities, impulsivity, time perception, and the Utility Measure of Cigarette Reinforcing Efficacy (UMCE). Education level and UMCE were each significantly correlated with 3 out of 4 of the discounting measures. Moreover, the largest effect sizes observed were between these two measures and the four discounting measures. All potential discounting predictors were also investigated using step-wise linear regression with Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) analysis—these BIC models revealed that education level and UMCE accounted for large portions of the variance. We conclude that education level and UMCE were the most consistent predictors of discounting. This data is discussed within the framework of a widely accepted neuroeconomic model that suggests that two brain systems separately assess two separate facets of decision-making, and the interplay between these two systems determines self-control in smokers. We hypothesize that education level and UMCE may serve as surrogate measures of the functionality of these two systems and that discounting may be a sentinel measure of self-control.

Keywords: Decision-making; Delay discounting; Education; Executive functioning; Reinforcing efficacy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Decision Making
  • Delay Discounting*
  • Educational Status
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Time Perception*
  • Tobacco Products
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology