Links between autobiographical memory richness and temporal discounting in older adults

Sci Rep. 2020 Apr 14;10(1):6431. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-63373-1.


When making choices between smaller, sooner rewards and larger, later ones, people tend to discount future outcomes. Individual differences in temporal discounting in older adults have been associated with episodic memory abilities and entorhinal cortical thickness. The cause of this association between better memory and more future-oriented choice remains unclear, however. One possibility is that people with perceptually richer recollections are more patient because they also imagine the future more vividly. Alternatively, perhaps people whose memories focus more on the meaning of events (i.e., are more "gist-based") show reduced temporal discounting, since imagining the future depends on interactions between semantic and episodic memory. We examined which categories of episodic details - perception-based or gist-based - are associated with temporal discounting in older adults. Older adults whose autobiographical memories were richer in perception-based details showed reduced temporal discounting. Furthermore, in an exploratory neuroanatomical analysis, both discount rates and perception-based details correlated with entorhinal cortical thickness. Retrieving autobiographical memories before choice did not affect temporal discounting, however, suggesting that activating episodic memory circuitry at the time of choice is insufficient to alter discounting in older adults. These findings elucidate the role of episodic memory in decision making, which will inform interventions to nudge intertemporal choices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Choice Behavior
  • Delay Discounting*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Perception / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology