This project aims to contribute to our understanding of how the ability to exercise self-control changes across the life-cycle. It uses tools from neuroeconomics to investigate how the performance of a key self-control network in the brain changes with aging in healthy individuals. The overarching hypothesis is that the functional performance of this critical regulatory network improves with age, so that later in life it gets better at assigning values to the 'tempting options'that are consistent with their overall impact on well-being, as opposed to values that over-weight immediate rewards at the expense of other consequences. This hypothesis is based on prior neuroimaging studies that have shown that this network plays a critical role in dietary self- control, as well as related neuroimaging studies that have shown that the relevant circuitry changes with age. Ninety healthy individuals (30 young adults with ages 13-16, 30 middle-aged with ages 30-40, and 30 elderly adults with ages 65-70), who will be matched on gender and IQ, will participate in the study. In study 1 they will perform a self-control task in an fMRI experiment in which they have to make choices between smaller immediate monetary payments and larger but delayed payments. In study 2 we will collect structural and connectivity anatomical data to relate differences in behavioral and functional performance of the self-control circuitry to underlying anatomical differences. Preliminary behavioral data suggests the feasibility of the approaches for both planned studies, and all necessary infrastructure is available to rapidly implement the planned studies. The results will provide a detailed and quantitative picture of how the brain's ability to exercise self-control changes with the life-cycle. This will help us to understand why there are systematic improvements in self-control across the life-cycle for many individuals, and what neural impairments are present in those that do not exhibit such improvements.

Public Health Relevance

The planned studies will investigate how the performance of the brain's self-control circuitry changes with aging (from adolescence to old age). The studies will also test how behavioral and functional changes in self-control are related to underlying neural anatomical changes over the life-cycle.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Study Section
Cognitive Neuroscience Study Section (COG)
Program Officer
Nielsen, Lisbeth
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California Institute of Technology
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Hakimi, Shabnam; Hare, Todd A (2015) Enhanced Neural Responses to Imagined Primary Rewards Predict Reduced Monetary Temporal Discounting. J Neurosci 35:13103-9
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