Personal Impulsivity Mediates the Effects of Neuromodulation in Economic Intertemporal Choices: A Pilot Study

Keywords: Intertemporal choice; neuromodulation; transcranial direct current stimulation; individual differences; impulsivity; delay discounting


Involvement of the prefrontal cortex in intertemporal choices has been long recognized. Using neurostimulation techniques, recent studies have indicated that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) influences performance on intertemporal choice tasks. Present pilot study aimed to explore further the DLPFC’s role in intertemporal choices by assessing the influence of individual levels of impulsivity on modulating  stimulation’s effects. Thirteen subjects participated in a within-subjects experiment. During three sessions, participants received 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS; either sham, anodal, or cathodal) and were administered Intertemporal Choice Task. Then, they completed Barratt Impulsivity Scale and Dickman Impulsivity Inventory. Using a repeated-measure generalized linear model, we explored effects of stimulation on intertemporal choice (either immediate or delayed reward) on impulsive responses, defined as quick answers. Individual level of impulsivity was included in the model as a covariate. According to results, participants made a greater number of impulsive choices favoring immediate rewards after cathodal stimulation of the left DLPFC. Additionally, moderating role of individual impulsivity emerged. This study provides support for the involvement of the left DLPFC in intertemporal choices. We contend that the role of individual differences should be further explored to obtain a better understanding of intertemporal choice behavior.

Author Biographies

Barbara Colombo, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience Lab, Champlain College, 163 South Willard Street, Burlington, 05401 VT, USA

Department of Psychology, Neuroscience Lab, Champlain College

Paola Iannello, Department of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Department of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, 20122 Milano, Italy