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Delay discounting is the depreciation in a reward’s perceived value as a function of the time until receipt. Monetary incentive programs that provide rewards contingent on meeting daily physical activity (PA) goals may change participants’ delay discounting preferences. Purpose

Determine if monetary incentives provided in close temporal proximity to meeting PA goals changed delay discounting, and if such changes mediated intervention effects. Methods

Inactive adults (n = 512) wore accelerometers during a 12-month intervention where they received proximal monetary incentives for meeting daily moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) goals or delayed incentives for study participation. Delay discount rate and average MVPA were assessed at baseline, end of intervention, and a 24-month follow-up. Using structural equation modeling, we tested effects of proximal versus delayed rewards on delay discounting and whether any changes mediated intervention effects on MVPA. PA self-efficacy was also evaluated as a potential mediator, and both self-efficacy and delay discounting were assessed as potential moderators of intervention effects. Results

Proximal rewards significantly increased participants’ delay discounting (β = 0.238, confidence interval [CI]: −0.078, 0.380), indicating greater sensitivity to reinforcement timing. This change did not mediate incentive-associated increases in MVPA at the end of the 12-month intervention (β = −0.016, CI: −0.053, 0.019) or at a 24-month follow-up (β = −0.020, CI: −0.059, 0.018). Moderation effects were not found. Conclusions

Incentive-induced increases in delay discounting did not deleteriously impact MVPA. This finding may help assuage concerns about using monetary incentives for PA promotion, but further research regarding the consequences of changes in delay discounting is warranted.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, volume 58, issue 5, in 2024 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at


Society of Behavioral Medicine

Available for download on Thursday, March 20, 2025