Date of Award:

8-2018

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Gregory J. Madden

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Amy L. Odum

Third Advisor:

Timothy A. Shahan

Abstract

Impulsivity takes many forms, one of which is termed impulsive choice. Impulsive choice entails preference for an outcome due to its immediacy relative to more optimal outcomes that take longer to come to fruition. For example, one may wish to have another serving of a decadent dessert after dinner—but doing so may undermine a longer-term goal of improved health and nutrition. If having the extra serving becomes a habit, the consequences of that choice compound and may lead to, for example, obesity. A high degree of impulsive choice such as this is indeed related to issues such as obesity, drug addictions (e.g., alcohol, opiates), and more; it may also cause these conditions.

Because impulsive choice may lead to the development of poor health conditions, being able to reduce impulsive choice may reduce the occurrence of these conditions and/or help treat them. To date, a variety of studies have been conducted to examine ways to reduce impulsive choice, but it was unclear what methods may be most useful for clinical use in humans. Thus, the first portion of the enclosed research was a literature review in which successful methods for reducing impulsive choice were identified. A particular intervention called Episodic Future Thinking (EFT), which entails vivid imagination of one’s future, was one of the most promising found. However, it was unclear if its positive effects on impulsive choice were due to EFT itself or a placebo-like effect, which can arise from being able to guess the purpose of the intervention.

The remaining portions of this dissertation focused on determining whether people are able to identify the purpose of EFT, and subsequently, if this awareness accounts for the positive effects of EFT on impulsive choice. Across three experiments, we demonstrated that naïve individuals are able to figure out the purpose of EFT (Experiments 1a and 1b), but that being aware of its purpose is unrelated to its positive effects (Experiment 3). These findings give hope that this intervention could be clinically useful, but it did appear that its benefits did not generalize well to novel settings (Experiment 2). Overall, the results of the research showed that EFT produces genuine changes in impulsive choice, but that further research will need to be conducted to understand why it works, and ultimately, how its generalizability can be increased.

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Available for download on Monday, May 08, 2023

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