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

Duration: 2012 - 2018
Funding: National Science Foundation
Principal Investigator: Lisa Gatzke-Kopp

young girl typing on laptop



This research project involved the development of a novel behavioral assessment to identify different forms of impulsivity by examine children’s willingness to wait for a reward, work for a reward, or tolerate an uncertain reward.   

Impulsive decision making has been demonstrated to contribute to behavior problems and academic underachievement. Currently, all children characterized by impulsivity are assumed to have similar problems and are treated with similar strategies for behavioral management.  However, because the neural processes involved in decision making are multifaceted, different children can arrive at an impulsive (sub-optimal) decision for different reasons.

Children approximately 9 years old, between the summer of 3rd and 4th grade (n = 400) were recruited from the Pennsylvania subsample of the Family Life Project. These children were enrolled in the Family Life Project study at the time of their birth, and were followed prospectively. For this study, they completed a computerized card game in an effort to win points toward a prize.

Project Impact

The impact of this information is two-fold:

  • 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
  • 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.

Key Findings

  • Children’s tolerance of effort on the task was associated with better teacher-rated academic motivation, even when controlling for IQ. 
  • Children’s aversion to low-probability outcomes was associated with teacher ratings of anxiety. 
  • Contrary to expectations, greater willingness to wait was associated with higher ratings of hyperactivity. 
  • Although hyperactivity is often associated with delay aversion, it is possible that delay is more tolerable as long as it is passive.  More work examining the relation between effort and time is needed.

Project Team


Children’s sensitivity to cost and reward in decision making across distinct domains of probability, effort, and delay

Gatzke-Kopp, L. M., Ram, N., Lydon-Staley, D. M., & DuPuis, D. (2018). Children’s  sensitivity to cost and reward in decision making across distinct domains of probability, effort, and delay. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 31, 12-24.