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The Role of Delay Discounting in the Generation of Stressful Life Events Across Adolescence


Hammen’s (1991) model of stress generation suggests that depressed individuals are more likely to behave in ways that bring about greater exposure to negative life events. More recent research suggests that adolescents with other types of psychological vulnerabilities, including those more likely to make impulsive choices, may also be predisposed to experience greater increases in stress over time. The current study examined whether delay discounting (DD), defined as the tendency to prefer smaller but immediately available rewards relative to larger, delayed rewards, predicts the generation of negative life events across adolescence and whether this is due to the association between DD and depressive symptoms. Participants (n = 213, Mage = 15, range 12–17) completed self-report measures of depressive symptoms and negative life events, as well as a behavioral measure assessing DD annually over four years. Results of latent growth models suggest that both independent and dependent negative life events increased across adolescence. Consistent with a stress generation framework, DD predicted the growth in dependent, but not independent, negative life events over this time period, controlling for baseline levels of depressive symptoms. Further exploratory analyses suggest that DD was associated with increases in depressive symptomology across adolescence, but that the relation between DD and changes in independent negative life events was not better accounted for by increases in depressive symptoms over time. Taken together, these findings suggest the importance of DD in predicting youths’ exposure to dependent negative life events and point to potential avenues for clinical intervention.

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All data utilized in the current study will be made available upon reasonable request.


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This project was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA18647) awarded to Carl W. Lejuez.

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Study conceptualization and design were conceived of by Carl Lejuez. Data collection and analyses were performed by the first author (Julia Felton). All authors contributed to the drafting of each version of the manuscript and all approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Julia W. Felton.

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Ethics Approval

All procedures performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.

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Informed consent and assent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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Felton, J.W., Collado, A., Cinader, M. et al. The Role of Delay Discounting in the Generation of Stressful Life Events Across Adolescence. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol (2022).

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  • Stress
  • Adolescents
  • Depression
  • Delay Discounting