OBJECTIVES: Stress hormones have been associated with temporal discounting. Although time-discount rate is shown to be stable over a long term, no study to date examines whether individual differences in stress hormones could predict individuals' time-discount rates in the relatively distant future (e.g., six month later), which is of interest in neuroeconomics of stress-addiction association.
METHODS: We assessed 87 participants' salivary stress hormone (cortisol, cortisone, and alpha-amylase) levels and hyperbolic discounting of delayed rewards consisting of three magnitudes, at the time-interval of six months. For salivary steroid assays, we employed a liquid chromatography/ mass spectroscopy (LC/MS) method. The correlations between the stress hormone levels and time-discount rates were examined.
RESULTS: We observed that salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) levels were negatively associated with time-discount rates in never-smokers. Notably, salivary levels of stress steroids (i.e., cortisol and cortisone) negatively and positively related to time-discount rates in men and women, respectively, in never-smokers. Ever-smokers' discount rates were not predicted from these stress hormone levels.
CONCLUSIONS: Individual differences in stress hormone levels predict impulsivity in temporal discounting in the future. There are sex differences in the effect of stress steroids on temporal discounting; while there was no sex defference in the relationship between sAA and temporal discounting.