Intertemporal choice and temporal discounting in children: a review and synthesis

Teresa McCormack*, Ciarán Canning, Agnieszka Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

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We review existing research on intertemporal choice in children that has used delay choice tasks, a type of delay gratification task that typically involves choosing between a smaller reward now and a larger reward later. We align developmental research with some of the large body of empirical and theoretical work in this area that has been conducted with adults, with a focus on methodological appropriateness, the effectiveness of experimental manipulations, and role of future thinking processes in intertemporal choice. We conclude that, with care, it is possible to use delay discounting tasks with children from around 8 years that are similar to those that have been used with adults; simpler delay choice tasks are likely to yield robust data from around 3 years. Experimental manipulations to enhance performance have generally been less successful with child populations than adults, but there is some evidence that learning-based and framing approaches can increase the likelihood that children delay gratification. We outline a detailed theoretical framework, based on existing research with adults, that describes the various ways in which future thinking processes may contribute to intertemporal choice, and argue that some of these processes may develop relatively late. This means that the nature of the relation between future thinking and intertemporal choice may change substantially with development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101134
Number of pages33
JournalDevelopmental Review
Early online date30 May 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


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