, Volume 224, Issue 1, pp 109–120 | Cite as

Altruism in time: social temporal discounting differentiates smokers from problem drinkers

  • W. K. Bickel
  • D. P. Jarmolowicz
  • E. T. Mueller
  • C. T. Franck
  • C. Carrin
  • K. M. Gatchalian
Original Investigation



Recent studies on reinforcer valuation in social situations have informed research on mental illness. Social temporal discounting may be a way to examine effects of social context on the devaluation of delayed reinforcers. In prior research with non-drug-using groups, we demonstrated that individuals discount delayed rewards less rapidly (i.e., value the future more) for a group of which they are a member than they do for themselves alone.


The current study examined how cigarette smoking and level of alcohol use relate to rates of delay and social temporal discounting.


In this study, we used crowd-sourcing technology to contact a large number of individuals (N = 796). Some of these individuals were hazardous-to-harmful drinkers (n = 269), whereas others were non-problem drinkers (n = 523); some were smokers (n = 182), whereas others were nonsmokers (n = 614). Delay discounting questionnaires for individual rewards (me now, me later) and for group rewards (we now, we later; me now, we later) were used to measure individuals’ discounting rates across various social contexts.


Our analyses found that smokers discounted delayed rewards more rapidly than controls under all conditions. However, hazardous-to-harmful drinkers discounted delayed rewards significantly more rapidly than the non-problem drinkers under the individual condition, but not under the social conditions.


This finding suggests that the use of different abused drugs may be associated with excessive discounting in the individual condition and has selective effects when discounting for a group in the social conditions.


Alcohol Nicotine Delay discounting Social Group Trust Human 



This work was funded by NIDA Grants R01 DA 024080, R01 DA 024080-02S1 (NIAAA), R01 DA 030241 and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The authors would like to thank Patsy Marshall for assistance with manuscript preparation.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. K. Bickel
    • 1
  • D. P. Jarmolowicz
    • 1
  • E. T. Mueller
    • 1
  • C. T. Franck
    • 1
  • C. Carrin
    • 1
  • K. M. Gatchalian
    • 1
  1. 1.Addiction Recovery Research CenterVirginia Tech Carilion Research InstituteRoanokeUSA

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