Temporal discounting in major depressive disorder

E. Pulcu, P. D. Trotter, E. J. Thomas, M. McFarquhar, G. Juhasz, B. J. Sahakian, J. F.W. Deakin, R. Zahn, I. M. Anderson, R. Elliott

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61 Citations (Scopus)


Background Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with abnormalities in financial reward processing. Previous research suggests that patients with MDD show reduced sensitivity to frequency of financial rewards. However, there is a lack of conclusive evidence from studies investigating the evaluation of financial rewards over time, an important aspect of reward processing that influences the way people plan long-term investments. Beck's cognitive model posits that patients with MDD hold a negative view of the future that may influence the amount of resources patients are willing to invest into their future selves. Method We administered a delay discounting task to 82 participants: 29 healthy controls, 29 unmedicated participants with fully remitted MDD (rMDD) and 24 participants with current MDD (11 on medication). Results Patients with current MDD, relative to remitted patients and healthy subjects, discounted large-sized future rewards at a significantly higher rate and were insensitive to changes in reward size from medium to large. There was a main effect of clinical group on discounting rates for large-sized rewards, and discounting rates for large-sized rewards correlated with severity of depressive symptoms, particularly hopelessness. Conclusions Higher discounting of delayed rewards in MDD seems to be state dependent and may be a reflection of depressive symptoms, specifically hopelessness. Discounting distant rewards at a higher rate means that patients are more likely to choose immediate financial options. Such impairments related to long-term investment planning may be important for understanding value-based decision making in MDD, and contribute to ongoing functional impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1825-1834
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • Key words Delay discounting
  • hopelessness
  • major depressive disorder
  • reward processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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    Pulcu, E., Trotter, P. D., Thomas, E. J., McFarquhar, M., Juhasz, G., Sahakian, B. J., Deakin, J. F. W., Zahn, R., Anderson, I. M., & Elliott, R. (2014). Temporal discounting in major depressive disorder. Psychological Medicine, 44(9), 1825-1834. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291713002584