CAREER: Genes, Environments, and Experiences in the Phenotypic Development of Cost Discounting and High Risk Decision Making

Project: Research project

Project Details


In this project the Principle Investigator will examine the heterogeneity within impulsive decision making as well as the biological developmental processes that lead to individual differences in decision making phenotypes. Although decisions to pursue a goal are typically dichotomous (yes/no), factors that contribute to decisions are multiple. In addition to the value of the targeted reward, individuals must consider the costs associated with effort, time, and risk. The reduction in perceived value as costs increase is known as cost discounting, and has been demonstrated to differ substantially between individuals. Because individual variability exists in each of these domains (effort, time, and risk) independently, more variability exists in the process of decision making than is evident in the variability of decision outcomes, requiring more detailed assessment of discounting strategies than can be extracted from tests currently used in research. Furthermore, developmental theory proposes that variability in cost discounting arises as a function of environmental adaptation, allowing for the development of specific hypotheses regarding the relationship between early developmental adversity and the dopaminergic processing that contributes to cost discounting. This study will evaluate discounting tendencies in a longitudinal, prospectively collected, epidemiological sample to test the association between genotype, biological development, and decision making phenotypic outcomes.

In terms of broader impacts, this research will expand the understanding of how children process information in making decisions. Impulsive decision making has been demonstrated to contribute to behavior problems and academic underachievement. Currently all children characterized by impulsivity tend to garner the same recommendations and behavioral management approaches. However, because the neural processes involved in decision making are multifaceted, different children can arrive at an impulsive (sub-optimal) decision for different reasons. This project will develop a detailed assessment of decision making that allows for more individualized characterization of children, which will directly inform the development of a range of strategies for behavior management applicable for classroom use. The impact of this information is two-fold; (1) understanding the heterogeneity of impulsive decision making will provide a framework from which research on behavioral change can refine and diversify individual-based approaches, and (2) the developmental, process-based, information extracted from this study will help identify windows of developmental sensitivity and mechanisms of influence that can inform policy and prevention practice to enhance developmental trajectories for under-served children.

Effective start/end date5/1/124/30/18


  • National Science Foundation: $699,197.00


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