Delay Discounting as a Transdiagnostic Process in Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-analysis

JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 1;76(11):1176-1186. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2102.


Importance: Delay discounting is a behavioral economic index of impulsive preferences for smaller-immediate or larger-delayed rewards that is argued to be a transdiagnostic process across health conditions. Studies suggest some psychiatric disorders are associated with differences in discounting compared with controls, but null findings have also been reported.

Objective: To conduct a meta-analysis of the published literature on delay discounting in people with psychiatric disorders.

Data sources: PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, Embase, and Web of Science databases were searched through December 10, 2018. The psychiatric keywords used were based on DSM-IV or DSM-5 diagnostic categories. Collected data were analyzed from December 10, 2018, through June 1, 2019.

Study selection: Following a preregistered Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) protocol, 2 independent raters reviewed titles, abstracts, and full-text articles. English-language articles comparing monetary delay discounting between participants with psychiatric disorders and controls were included.

Data extraction and synthesis: Hedges g effect sizes were computed and random-effects models were used for all analyses. Heterogeneity statistics, one-study-removed analyses, and publication bias indices were also examined.

Main outcomes and measures: Categorical comparisons of delay discounting between a psychiatric group and a control group.

Results: The sample included 57 effect sizes from 43 studies across 8 diagnostic categories. Significantly steeper discounting for individuals with a psychiatric disorder compared with controls was observed for major depressive disorder (Hedges g = 0.37; P = .002; k = 7), schizophrenia (Hedges g = 0.46; P = .004; k = 12), borderline personality disorder (Hedges g = 0.60; P < .001; k = 8), bipolar disorder (Hedges g = 0.68; P < .001; k = 4), bulimia nervosa (Hedges g = 0.41; P = .001; k = 4), and binge-eating disorder (Hedges g = 0.34; P = .001; k = 7). In contrast, anorexia nervosa exhibited statistically significantly shallower discounting (Hedges g = -0.30; P < .001; k = 10). Modest evidence of publication bias was indicated by a statistically significant Egger test for schizophrenia and at the aggregate level across studies.

Conclusions and relevance: Results of this study appear to provide empirical support for delay discounting as a transdiagnostic process across most of the psychiatric disorders examined; the literature search also revealed limited studies in some disorders, notably posttraumatic stress disorder, which is a priority area for research.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Neuropsychological Tests