Positive autobiographical memory retrieval reduces temporal discounting

Karolina M. Lempert, Megan E. Speer, Mauricio R. Delgado, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People generally prefer rewards sooner rather than later. This phenomenon, temporal discounting, underlies many societal problems, including addiction and obesity. One way to reduce temporal discounting is to imagine positive future experiences. Since there is overlap in the neural circuitry associated with imagining future experiences and remembering past events, here we investigate whether recalling positive memories can also promote more patient choice. We found that participants were more patient after retrieving positive autobiographical memories, but not when they recalled negative memories. Moreover, individuals were more impulsive after imagining novel positive scenes that were not related to their memories, showing that positive imagery alone does not drive this effect. Activity in the striatum and temporo parietal junction during memory retrieval predicted more patient choice, suggesting that to the extent that memory recall is rewarding and involves perspective-taking, it influences decision-making. Furthermore, representational similarity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex between memory recall and decision phases correlated with the behavioral effect across participants. Thus, we have identified a novel manipulation for reducing temporal discounting-remembering the positive past-and have begun to characterize the psychological and neural mechanisms behind it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1584-1593
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Intertemporal choice
  • Nostalgia
  • Positive prospection
  • Temporal discounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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