Background

The novel theory of Reinforcer Pathology states that the temporal window, measured by delay discounting (DD), integrates the value of reinforcers.Short temporal windows result in greater value for brief intense immediate reinforcers (e.g., non-enriching sedentary activities), while longer temporal windows result in a greater value of lower intensity reinforcers that accrue value over time (social, enriching sedentary, and physical activities). The resulting hypothesis proposes that the amount, frequency, and pleasantness of alternative reinforcement would be inversely related to the extent of DD.

Methods

Participants (N= 227) completed an adjusting DD task and the Pleasant Events Schedule (PES). The PES assesses the frequency of engaging in and the pleasantness of various activities. PES provides a measurement of frequency, pleasantness, and a cross-product of those two PES measures of reinforcement. Pearson product moment correlations were completed between all variables.

Results

Across each scoring type, total pleasant events were negatively correlated with delay discounting, indicating that higher discounting was related to a lower number, frequency, and pleasantness of events. Both physical activities and enriching activities were also negatively correlated with delay discounting across each score type, indicating that higher discounting was related to a lower number, frequency, pleasantness, and reinforcement of events.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that the hypothesis of Reinforcer Pathology Theory is supported by these data and suggest the temporal window over which reinforcers are integrated may be an important factor resulting in a preference for unhealthy reinforcers.