Reinforcer pathology: Common neural substrates for delay discounting and snack purchasing in prediabetics

Brain Cogn. 2019 Jun;132:80-88. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2019.03.003. Epub 2019 Mar 29.


Reinforcer pathology theory stipulates that individuals with both (a) high preference for smaller, immediate over larger, delayed rewards; and (b) high demand for unhealthy commodities are uniquely susceptible to poor health outcomes. Specifically, two behavioral economic tasks (delay discounting, assessing preference for smaller, immediate or larger, delayed rewards; and purchasing, assessing purchases of commodities over changes in price) have been independently associated with conditions such as overweight/obesity and problem substance use. In the present study, we examined possible shared neural regions involved in the processes of delay discounting and demand for snack foods in a prediabetic sample. Fifty-four participants completed both of these tasks. Conjunction between delay discounting and purchasing task results indicates substantial common neural substrates recruited during these two tasks, consistent with interpretations of executive control, interoception, and attention, in the prefrontal cortex, insula, and frontoparietal cortex (superior/middle frontal cortex and superior/inferior parietal lobules), respectively. Collectively, these results suggest possible neural substrates in which the two behavioral risk factors of reinforcer pathology may interact during real-world decision-making in prediabetes.

Keywords: Delay discounting; Impulsivity; Prediabetes; Purchasing; Reinforcer pathology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Decision Making*
  • Delay Discounting*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prediabetic State / psychology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reward
  • Snacks