Individual-specific mortality is associated with how individuals evaluate future discounting decisions

Anthony J. Lee*, Lisa M. DeBruine, Benedict C. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


How organisms discount the value of future rewards is associated with many important outcomes, and may be a central component of theories of life-history. According to life-history theories, prioritizing immediacy is indicative of an accelerated strategy (i.e. reaching reproductive maturity quickly and producing many offspring at the cost of long-term investment). Previous work extrapolating life-history theories to facultative calibration of life-history traits within individuals has theorized that cues to mortality can trigger an accelerated strategy; however, compelling evidence for this hypothesis in modern humans is lacking. We assessed whether country-level life expectancy predicts individual future discounting behaviour across multiple intertemporal choice items in a sample of 13 429 participants from 54 countries. Individuals in countries with lower life expectancy were more likely to prefer an immediate reward to one that is delayed. Individuals from countries with greater life expectancy were especially more willing to wait for a future reward when the relative gain in choosing the future reward was large and/or the delay period was short. These results suggest that cues to mortality can influence the way individuals evaluate intertemporal decisions, which in turn can inform life-history trade-offs. We also found that older (but not very old) participants were more willing to wait for a future reward when there is a greater relative gain and/or shorter delay period, consistent with theoretical models that suggest individuals are more future-orientated at middle age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180304
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1880
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018


  • ageing
  • cross-cultural research
  • delay discounting
  • intertemporal choice
  • life expectancy
  • life-history theory


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