Current Projects

Guiding Question 1: Why is it so challenging to do things that are good for us?

PEDL’s first guiding question is, “why is it so challenging to do things that are good for us?” For example, why is it so challenging to save money? Why is it so challenging to exercise? Why is it so easy to over indulge in tasty foods? Why do we succumb to alcohol or drug addictions? Why is it so challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

These types of behaviors stem from decisions that traverse time and involve uncertainty. More specifically, we often must choose between what matters to us right now and what will matter to us down the road. These are intertemporal choices. Often, humans and other species exhibit what’s called “temporal discounting,” where we overvalue what satisfies us now and undervalue (i.e., “discount”) future outcomes. Temporal discounting is also called future discounting, delay discounting, time discounting, or impulsive choice. Our tendency to discount future outcomes also relates to delay of gratification.

Similarly, we often make choices under uncertainty – in other words, when we do not know what the outcome will be or when there is outcome variance. Choice under uncertainty can also be thought of as risky. Like humans tend to discount the future, many individuals tend to be risk averse – meaning they prefer safer options to probabilistic ones, even when the gamble has a higher expected utility. On the other hands, some individuals are risk-seeking, meaning they prefer risky options.

Despite these general decision patterns, there are also individual differences in discounting and risk tolerance. We are interested in understanding who discounts the future more? Who takes more risks? How do past environments (like childhood SES or adversity) relate to current decision patterns? How do individual differences in discounting and risk tolerance relate to important real-world behaviors such as financial attitudes and substance use?

Currently, we have three projects addressing this guiding question:

  1. Do Adverse Childhood Experiences Predict Risky Choice or Impulsive Choice?
  2. Risky Choice, Impulsive Choice, and Student Debt Attitudes
  3. Age Differences in the Neural Substrates of Loss Aversion


Guiding question 2: What factors influence risky and impulsive financial or health-related choices?

Beyond describing, explaining, and predicting impulsive and risky choices, we also strive to understand what factors influence impulsive and risky choices. More specifically, addressing factors that influence impulsive and risky choices will help us understand why people give into immediate temptations or display risk aversion. Understanding what influences impulsive and risky choices will also help us facilitate adaptive and/or more successful decision-making.

Currently, we have two projects addressing this guiding question:

1. [Preregistered] Kornely, D., & Halfmann, K. (2018, June 21). The effect of psychosocial stress on substance use behaviors.

2. Does Mental Contrasting Influence Impulsive or Risky Choice?


Future Projects & Questions

Future research will also implement psychophysiology to better understand the biological mechanisms associated with decision-making. We are interested in pursuing the following questions:

  1. Can we reliably use spontaneous eye blink rate (using BioPac SL) as a measure of dopamine levels?
  2. Does spontaneous eye blink rate correlates with decision patterns (i.e., risk-taking, temporal discounting)?
  3. Does heart rate variability correlate with decision patterns?
  4. Do economic decision patterns (e.g., intertemporal choice) predict substance use/abuse in college students?


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