Delay Discounting, Genetic Sensitivity, and Leukocyte Telomere Length

Abstract

In a graying world, there is an increasing interest in correlates of aging, especially those found in early life. Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is an emerging marker of aging at the cellular level, but little is known regarding its link with poor decision making that often entails being overly impatient. Here we investigate the relationship between LTL and the degree of impatience, which is measured in the laboratory using an incentivized delay discounting task. In a sample of 1,158 Han Chinese undergraduates, we observe that steeper delay discounting, indexing higher degree of impatience, is negatively associated with LTL. The relationship is robust after controlling for health-related variables, as well as risk attitude - another important determinant of decision making. LTL in females is more sensitive to impatience than in males. We then asked if genes possibly modulate the effect of impatient behavior on LTL. The oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphism rs53576, which has figured prominently in investigations of social cognition and psychological resources, and the estrogen receptor beta gene (ESR2) polymorphism rs2978381, one of two gonadal sex hormone genes, significantly mitigate the negative effect of impatience on cellular aging in females. The current results contribute to understanding the relationship between preferences in decision making, particularly impatience, and cellular aging, for the first time to our knowledge. Notably, oxytocin and estrogen receptor polymorphisms temper accelerated cellular aging in young females who tend to make impatient choices.

Publication
In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2016
Date

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