Propranolol reduces reference-dependence in intertemporal choice

Karolina M. Lempert, Sandra F. Lackovic, Russell H. Tobe, Paul W. Glimcher, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In intertemporal choices between immediate and delayed rewards, people tend to prefer immediate rewards, often even when the delayed reward is larger. This is known as temporal discounting. It has been proposed that this tendency emerges because immediate rewards are more emotionally arousing than delayed rewards. However, in our previous research, we found no evidence for this but instead found that arousal responses (indexed with pupil dilation) in intertemporal choice are context-dependent. Specifically, arousal tracks the subjective value of the more variable reward option in the paradigm, whether it is immediate or delayed. Nevertheless, people tend to choose the less variable option in the choice task. In other words, their choices are reference-dependent and depend on variance in their recent history of offers. This suggests that there may be a causal relationship between reference-dependent choice and arousal, which we investigate here by reducing arousal pharmacologically using propranolol. Here, we show that propranolol reduces reference-dependence, leading to choices that are less influenced by recent history and more internally consistent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsx081
Pages (from-to)1394-1401
Number of pages8
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Emotional arousal
  • Intertemporal choice
  • Propranolol
  • Pupil dilation
  • Temporal discounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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