Age Differences in Intertemporal Choice: The Role of Task Type, Outcome Characteristics, and Covariates.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Prior research has revealed age differences in the preferred timing of monetary outcomes, but results are inconsistent across studies. The present study examined the role of task type, outcome characteristics, and a range of theoretically implicated covariates that may contribute to variations in age effects.


Two types of intertemporal choice paradigms (temporal discounting and sequence construction) were administered to a diverse life-span sample (n = 287, aged 18-87). The design experimentally manipulated outcome delay (months vs years), amount (hundreds vs thousands), and valence (gain vs loss) while statistically controlling for a range of potential covariates including demographics, affect, personality, time perspective, subjective health, and numeracy.


In the temporal discounting task, no significant age differences were observed and this pattern did not differ by outcome delay, amount, or valence. In the sequence-construction task, age was associated with a preference for sequences of decreasing impact in the gain condition but not in the loss condition, whereas outcome delay and amount did not moderate age effects. Age patterns in discounting and sequences preferences remained unchanged after controlling for covariates.


These findings converge with prior studies reporting weak or null effects of age in temporal discounting tasks and suggest that inconsistent results are not due to variations in outcome valence, delay, or amount across studies. Findings also add to the scarce evidence for age differences sequence-preferences. After discussing methodological limitations, we consider implications for future research and practice.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Löckenhoff, CE; Samanez-Larkin, GR

Published Date

  • January 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 75 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 85 - 95

PubMed ID

  • 31410482

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC6909431

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1758-5368

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1079-5014

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/geronb/gbz097


  • eng