The right temporoparietal junction enables delay of gratification by allowing decision makers to focus on future events

by Alexander Soutschek, Marius Moisa, Christian C. Ruff, Philippe N. Tobler

Studies of neural processes underlying delay of gratification usually focus on prefrontal networks related to curbing affective impulses. Here, we provide evidence for an alternative mechanism that facilitates delaying gratification by mental orientation towards the future. Combining continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) with functional neuroimaging, we tested how the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) facilitates processing of future events and thereby promotes delay of gratification. Participants performed an intertemporal decision task and a mental time-travel task in the MRI scanner before and after receiving cTBS over the rTPJ or the vertex (control site). rTPJ cTBS led to both stronger temporal discounting for longer delays and reduced processing of future relative to past events in the mental time-travel task. This finding suggests that the rTPJ contributes to the ability to delay gratification by facilitating mental representation of outcomes in the future. On the neural level, rTPJ cTBS led to a reduction in the extent to which connectivity of rTPJ with striatum reflected the value of delayed rewards, indicating a role of rTPJ–striatum connectivity in constructing neural representations of future rewards. Together, our findings provide evidence that the rTPJ is an integral part of a brain network that promotes delay of gratification by facilitating mental orientation to future rewards.

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