Various research showed people who go after small, immediate rewards have higher risks in fighting addiction and impulsivity. A new research found this particular decision-making tendency is genetically wired to brain pathways that are also linked to these disorders.
Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine analyzed 310 pairs of teenage identical or fraternal twins. The participants were asked questions about money during their 12th and 14th year.
The study participants were presented with two choices. In one scenario, they can get $7 in an instant. In the second scenario, they can get $10 but they would have to wait two weeks to receive it in the mail.
At the age of 12, about 35 percent of the study participants opted for the instant cash reward. At the age of 14, the rate dropped to 27.5 percent.
Researchers found that genes associated with depression, addiction and mood play vital roles in the decision-making tendencies. While delayed gratification became more enticing as the participants aged, people who preferred instant rewards primarily have higher chances of continuing the same payoff scheme with impulsive choices.
The kappa opioid receptor and serotonin genes are both associated with mood. In animal lab tests, the receptors were traced to behaviors linked to addiction and depression. The new research suggests that both receptors also play a role in a person's decision-making tendencies. Genes play a role whether a person would grab instant rewards or wait for bigger payoff later.
"We found that many such decisions are explained by genetic factors that also are related to mood and impulsivity," said lead researcher and associate professor of psychiatry Dr. Andrey Anokhin.
When a person refuses to wait for a bigger payoff, it indicates the person has an impulsive nature, which further affects the likelihood of drug addiction, obesity and alcoholism.
Anokhin and his team are currently analyzing the potential connections between this specific type of decision-making and drugs and alcohol abuse.
"We need to look more closely before drawing conclusions, but we want to see what the consequences of the differences we've identified are for real-life behaviors," added Anokhin.
The findings were presented during the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting on Dec. 8 in Hollywood, Florida.
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