If I offer you a bag of potato chips today or a box of chocolate truffles next week, which would you choose? Neuroscientists are interested in exploring what happens when the brain must choose between receiving a reward immediately or in the future, especially when waiting may result in a prize you like better.
A seahorse-shaped structure in the brain called the hippocampus is involved in recalling events from the past, and imagining them in the future. A new study in the journal PLOS Biology explores what role the hippocampus plays when a person has to decide between getting a reward now or later.
This study looked at healthy individuals as well as those with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition characterized by memory impairment and associated with atrophy of the hippocampus, and a different brain condition called frontotemporal dementia.
The French study, led by Mael Lebreton at the Brain and Spine Institute (ICM) in Paris, looked at time-dependent choices involving money, as well as “episodic” options such as food, sports or cultural events.
In the first experiment, researchers gave 15 participants a series of decisions about choosing one reward or another, where one of the hypothetical prizes is given now, and the other later. Some options were described in labeled photos, and some as just text. Photos gave participants a visual image, but with text, the subjects were forced to imagine what they would get. Participants tended to choose the delayed rewards when they imagined them with more detail.
Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education