The associations between posttraumatic stress disorder and delay discounting, future orientation, and reward availability: A behavioral economic model


The theoretical framework of behavioral economics, a metatheory that integrates operant learning and economic theory, has only recently been applied to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A behavioral economic theory of PTSD reflects an expansion of prior behavioral conceptualization of PTSD, which described PTSD in terms of respondent and operant conditioning. In the behavioral economic framework of PTSD, negatively reinforced avoidance behavior is overvalued, in part due to deficits in environmental reward, and may be conceptualized as a form of reinforcer pathology (i.e., excessive preference for and valuation of an immediate reinforcer). We investigated cross-sectional relationships between PTSD severity and several constructs rooted in this behavioral economic framework, including future orientation, reward availability, and delay discounting in a sample of 110 military personnel/veterans (87.2% male) who had served combat deployments following September 11, 2001. Total PTSD severity was inversely related to environmental reward availability, β = -.49, ΔR = 0.24, p < .001; hedonic reward availability, β = -.32, ΔR = 0.10, p = .001; and future orientation, β = -.20, ΔR = 0.04, p = .032, but not delay discounting, r = -.05, p = .633. An examination of individual symptom clusters did not suggest that avoidance symptoms were uniquely associated with these behavioral economic constructs. The findings offer support for a behavioral economic model of PTSD in which there is a lack of positive reinforcement as well as a myopic focus on the present.

Publication Title

Journal of traumatic stress