Future Orientation and the Ability to Delay Rewards (Psychosocial Development)
This study demonstrates that youth, more so than adults, lack consideration of future consequences. While these findings speak to issues of mitigation and culpability, they also suggest that youth’s difficulty in thinking about long-term consequences may make them vulnerable to being coerced into waiving Miranda rights or making a statement.
- To investigate age differences in future orientation and the ability to delay rewards.
- An experimental study conducted in a laboratory setting with a sample of 935 individuals, ages ten to 30 years. Participants were recruited from the community in several cities across the United States.
- Used both self-report questionnaires and behavioral tasks to assess future orientation and preference for delayed versus immediate rewards.
- Self-report questionnaire assessed participants’s abilities to think about the future, plan ahead and anticipate future consequences.
- Behavioral task was a “delay-discounting” task, a standardized measure designed to assess participants’ tendencies to choose immediate versus delayed rewards. This task was administered on a computer and presented participants with several choices between a smaller amount of pretend money that they could receive immediately (i.e., $5) versus a larger amount of money they could receive in a week (i.e., $100).
- Researchers did find age differences in future orientation as measured by the self-report questionnaire and the behavioral task.
- Younger adolescents, more so than individuals age 16 and older, demonstrated a weaker orientation toward the future.
- Younger adolescents were less likely to think about the future and anticipate future consequences of decisions.
- Planning ahead continued to develop into young adulthood.
- In the “delay-discounting” task, younger adolescents, more so than individuals age 16 and older, preferred smaller immediate rewards than larger delayed rewards.
- The evidence suggests that adolescents’s (in contrast to adults’s) preference for immediate versus delayed rewards is more closely linked to adolescents’s ability to think about the future and anticipate future consequences, and not their ability to self-regulate.
- The authors also note that “future orientation” has different dimensions, and adolescents’s ability to anticipate consequences may occur along a different timetable than their ability to plan ahead.
- Authors suggest that adolescents’s difficulty in anticipating future consequences is more closely linked to a sensitivity to rewards, which is attributed to development of a particular brain system (socio-emotional system), more highly aroused in early adolescence.
- The authors note that evidence demonstrating adolescents’s weakened future orientation, or inability to anticipate the consequences of their actions, is often applied to discussions of adolescents’s capacity for “premeditation” or “planfulness” in the context of criminal culpability.
- However, adolescents’s weakened future orientation may increase their vulnerability to coercion in the interrogation context, as well.