Genetics of Deferred Gratification

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Opting for smaller rewards immediately instead of waiting for bigger payoffs [has] a genetic link to brain pathways that underlie these disorders….genes linked to the brain’s serotonin and kappa opioid receptors—neuronal receptors associated with mood, depression, and addiction—also play a role in whether a person will choose an immediate reward over a larger payoff later.

The scientists also learned that adolescents become slightly more likely to accept delayed rewards as they age but that those who prefer immediate rewards tend to continue choosing quick payoffs.

“Every day we make decisions about obtaining immediate gains, which come at the cost of delayed but larger advantages. We found that many such decisions are explained by genetic factors that also are related to mood and impulsivity.”

First, they found that serotonin genes were involved. But a closer look indicated that genes related to kappa opioid receptors on brain cells appeared to be even more crucial in making these decisions, Anokhin explains. “The top three genes we’ve identified so far are linked to those receptors,” he says.

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