Yale University research reports that Most people prefer to have their rewards immediately, rather than have to wait for them, but would what if the rewards of the future are greater than the rewards available now – would you be prepared to wait? What if you were offered £20 now, or you could wait and have £100 in six months time – what would you choose? Being able wait for more valuable rewards is associated with higher intelligence, and now researchers believe they have found a region of the brain that is involved in both intelligence and what psychologists call “delay discounting” – the inability to resist the temptation of a smaller reward in lieu of recieving a larger reward at a later date. Discounting future rewards too much is a form of impulsivity, and an important way in which we can neglect to exert self-control.
Previous research suggests that higher intelligence is related to better self-control, but the reasons for this link are unknown. Psychologists Noah A. Shamosh and Jeremy R. Gray, from Yale University, and their colleagues, were interested in testing the idea that certain brain regions supporting short-term memory play a critical role in this relationship.
The results show that participants with the greatest activation in the brain region known as the anterior prefrontal cortex also scored the highest on intelligence tests and exhibited the best self-control during the financial reward test. This was the only brain region to show this relation. The results appear in the September issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.