Quantifying the Effects of a Constricted Temporal Window in Reinforcer Pathology
Mellis, Alexandra Michelle
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Health behaviors, positive and negative, can support or reduce risk for multiple chronic diseases, such as substance use disorder and obesity. These diseases are marked by overconsuming commodities that offer predictable short-term benefits, and neglecting other behaviors with variable long-term benefits (e.g., fast food is enjoyable in the moment; exercise may have delayed benefits, but moment-to-moment may not be as reinforcing as fast food). An individual's valuation of these fast food or exercise may depend on how far out into the future these benefits are considered, their temporal window. The first study shows that the temporal window is constricted among high-risk substance users than people who do not have substance problems, especially when considering higher-value choices. The second study shows that the temporal window can change depending on the environment. Specifically, engaging with stories of job loss can constrict the temporal window. The third study shows that engaging with job loss can specifically constrict the temporal window and increase the value of fast food among obese individuals. The final study shows that a similar hardship scenario, natural disasters, can constrict the temporal window, increase demand for alcohol and cigarettes, and decrease the valuation of more temporally extended reinforcers (e.g., employment, savings, and seatbelt wearing) among smoking drinkers. Together, these studies support a model, reinforcer pathology; wherein the temporal window, which can differ both between individuals and environments, drives valuation of reinforcers that impact health.
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