ISEMPH Presentation: Marjorie Prokosch
"Live fast if you’re going to die young: Decision making shifts as a function of vulnerability to infection"
Texas Christian University
Life history theory predicts that preferences for risk and delay of gratification will be influenced by cues in the environment that influence one’s mortality risk. One factor that is known to impact one’s mortality risk is disease threat, particularly among those most vulnerable to infection. Here, I provide the results of two studies examining the influence of changes in perceived environmental pathogen load on people’s preference for immediate versus delayed gratification. In both studies, participants were primed with cues indicating a growing disease threat or control cues. In Study 1, this was followed by a temporal discounting task and measures of one’s ability to delay gratification. In Study 2, participants completed a risk taking behavioral measure. Results revealed that individuals with a history of recurrent infection respond to cues of a growing disease threat by reporting more difficulty delaying gratification, valuing smaller, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards, and exhibiting a greater preference for risky rewards compared to controls. This research provides the first experimental evidence indicating that vulnerability to disease – both chronically occurring due to low quality immune function and experimentally manipulated by manipulating changes in the pathogen load - have implications for life history strategies and economic decision-making.