Monday, October 24, 2011: 2:45 PM
Grand Ballroom EF (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
(BEC) Behavioral Economics

Candidate for the Lee B. Lusted Student Prize Competition

Evan A. Wilhelms, Priscila G. Brust, Valerie Reyna, PhD, Seth T. Pardo, MA and Wilson Sui, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Purpose: To examine relations among intuitive processes (i.e., gist), temporal discounting, sensation seeking (reward sensitivity), and risk-taking in health domains such as alcohol use and food choices, and interactions with gender.

Method: Adults (N=966; 67% female; 37% Minority; mean age 20.2) were surveyed anonymously. Temporal discounting questions were presented for 3 commodities (alcohol, candy bars and money), varying immediate magnitude (1 or 6) and magnitude of the commodity one month later (Which would you choose: 1 candy bar now or 3 candy bars in one month?). Discount rates were calculated for each commodity by magnitude condition. Participants also selected the gist of their decisions from five ordinal options (e.g., Now is always better than later.) and responded to the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale (BSSS). Health behaviors included alcohol use (WHO’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, AUDIT), risk-taking (Adolescent Risk Questionnaire, ARQ), and spending behavior (Spendthrift Scale).

Result: In a regression using gist, discounting, sensation seeking, and gender as predictors of risky behaviors, discounting and gender were not significant by themselves, but discounting interacted with gender. Moreover, gist explained unique variance beyond other predictors. Specifically, health behaviors (AUDIT and ARQ) correlated with alcohol discount rates among males, whereas these behaviors correlated with candy discount rates among females.  Similarly, alcohol gist correlated with males’ risky behaviors, whereas candy gist correlated with females’ risky behaviors.  Discounting and reward sensitivity also predicted beyond their domains (e.g., alcohol predicted spending).

Conclusion: Consistent with Fuzzy-Trace Theory, unhealthy risk-taking behaviors were predicted by both reward sensitivity (sensation seeking) and information processing based on gist, each accounting for unique variance in health behaviors. In addition, there was a gender-specific effect in which alcohol predicted better for men, but candy bars predicted better for women. These results are consistent with a theoretical mechanism in which the perception of the gist of choices, as well as individual and group differences in reward salience, each account for unique variance in predicting risk taking and unhealthy choices.  Implications for public health messages and medical decision making will be discussed.