Reducing the bias towards immediate gratification with episodic future thinking
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People are constantly making decisions that involve choosing between immediately gratifying behaviors or avoiding these behaviors in favor of larger future rewards. The bias towards smaller immediate rewards as opposed to larger delayed rewards reflects a temporal discounting known as delay discounting. One technique that reduces delay discounting is to vividly imagine the future during decision-making using episodic future thinking (EFT). EFT is a type of prospective thinking that involves mental self-projection to pre-experience future events. This dissertation investigated the efficacy of EFT in reducing delay discounting and excessive energy intake in obese individuals. This dissertation consists of four completed studies, three of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals and the fourth has been prepared as a manuscript to be submitted for publication. The goal of the first study was to examine the efficacy of episodic future thinking (EFT) versus a control task in reducing delay discounting (as assessed by a hypothetical money choice task) and energy intake in an ad libitum eating task (a buffet style eating task in the laboratory) in overweight/obese women. The goal of the second study was to examine whether the magnitude of the EFT effect differed between lean and overweight/obese individuals. Research suggested that the neural deficits related to obesity may lead to a reduced EFT effect in obese compared to lean individuals. The third study was conducted to investigate whether EFT effects on delay discounting and ad libitum energy intake were also observed in children. The fourth and final study was a proof-of-concept pilot study that assessed whether a brief family-based dietary intervention that prompted parent-child dyads to engage in EFT daily, reduced usual energy intake (assessed by 24 hour food recalls). The results of these studies showed that EFT reduced delay discounting and energy intake. These findings have implications for improving the efficacy of weight loss interventions. The significance of these findings are discussed as well as possible directions for future research.