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Dr. Amy Odum's Featured Publication Spotlight


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Odum, A. L., Becker, R. J., Haynes, J. M., Galizio, A., Frye, C. C. J., Downey, H., Friedel, J. E., & Perez, D. M. (2020). Delay discounting of different outcomes: Review and theory. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Amy Odum
Spotlight by Dr. Amy Odum

How does this publication fit into your line of inquiry?

This review publication is the culmination of over 20 years of work. In 1999, I published my first article on delay discounting, which is how temporally remote outcomes have less value to us than things that will happen sooner. If you think about a lot of situations that cause problems for people, a lot of them happen because we act in accord with short-term contingencies, not the long-term effects of what we are doing in the moment. Many maladies that impact people, like drug addiction, obesity, problematic gambling, lack of preventative health care, are all empirically associated with steep delay discounting (loss of value of delayed outcomes). For this reason, delay discounting has become a very intensively researched area, with thousands of papers published.

What makes this publication special?

In my earliest paper on delay discounting, we examined how people who smoke cigarettes discount delayed money compared to nonsmokers. We found that people who smoke showed particularly steep discounting. One finding that stood out to me from this work, however, was that people who smoke discounted cigarettes much more steeply than money. Why is that? We thought maybe it was because cigarettes were addictive, but it turns out from our research that we discount many things more steeply than money. In this review paper, we go over the data and existing theories for the past 20 years that can’t account for all of the results, and we propose some new ones that we think possibly can. We also summarize a lot of work showing that if a person discounts one outcome steeply, they are likely to discount others steeply. In other words, delay discounting is a trait. We review a lot of evidence to support this assertion, including genetics. The hopeful thing from all of it is that there is a lot of ongoing research to try to help people be more sensitive to the delayed consequences of their behavior.

How were your students involved in this publication?

My students are my inspiration and close collaborators. We came up with the idea in lab meeting. After we went over what it would involve, we sized it up, and each took a chunk of it to work on because it was so large. My students gathered all of the many research papers, coded the data, performed the statistical analyses, and made the figures. They wrote the methods and results. They also helped me come up with ideas for the Introduction and Discussion as well as proofread those. In all, we reviewed hundreds of published papers to bring this paper to fruition.

What are the ripple effects of this publication?

This is a major review paper that will be widely read by people who are interested in delay discounting. We expect that other researchers will be evaluating our new theories critically, both by examining the existing literature and, hopefully, by conducting new experiments to test the theories. We hope that as a result of this publication, we will gain a better understanding of two things: 1) why we devalue future outcomes and 2) how we can learn to appreciate the future consequences of our actions in the moment, so we can make better decisions and lead healthier and happier lives.

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