Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Healthy participants (n = 79), ages 9–23, completed a delay discounting task assessing the extent to which the value of a monetary reward declines as the delay to its receipt increases. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to evaluate how individual differences in delay discounting relate to variation in fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) within whole-brain white matter using voxel-based regressions. Given that rapid prefrontal lobe development is occurring during this age range and that functional imaging studies have implicated the prefrontal cortex in discounting behavior, we hypothesized that differences in FA and MD would be associated with alterations in the discounting rate. The analyses revealed a number of clusters where less impulsive performance on the delay discounting task was associated with higher FA and lower MD. The clusters were located primarily in bilateral frontal and temporal lobes and were localized within white matter tracts, including portions of the inferior and superior longitudinal fasciculi, anterior thalamic radiation, uncinate fasciculus, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, corticospinal tract, and splenium of the corpus callosum. FA increased and MD decreased with age in the majority of these regions. Some, but not all, of the discounting/DTI associations remained significant after controlling for age. Findings are discussed in terms of both developmental and age-independent effects of white matter organization on discounting behavior.