Poor air quality and resulting annual deaths represent significant public health concerns. Recently, rapid delay discounting (the devaluation of future outcomes) of air quality has been considered a potential barrier for engaging in long term, sustainable behaviors that might help to reduce emissions (e.g., reducing private car use, societal support for clean air initiatives). Delay discounting has been shown to be predictive of real world behavior outside of laboratory settings, and therefore may offer an important framework beyond traditional variables thought to measure sustainable behavior such as importance of an environmental issue, or environmental attitudes/values, although more research is needed in this area. We examined relations between discounting of air quality, respiratory health, and monetary gains and losses. We also examined, relations between discounting and self-reported importance of air quality and respiratory health, and nature relatedness. Results showed rapid delay discounting of all outcomes across the time frames assessed, and significant positive correlations between delay discounting of air quality, respiratory health, and monetary outcomes. Steeper discounting of monetary outcomes relative to air quality and respiratory health outcomes was observed in the context of gains; however, no differences in discounting were observed across losses of monetary, air quality, and respiratory health. Replicating the sign effect, monetary outcomes were discounted more steeply than monetary losses. Importance of air quality, respiratory health and nature relatedness were significantly and positively correlated with one another, but not with degree of delay discounting of any outcome, demonstrating the need for more comprehensive measures that predict pro-environmental behaviors that might benefit individuals and public health over time. These results add to our understanding of decision-making, and demonstrate alarming rates of delay discounting of air quality and health. These results implicate a major public health concern and potential barriers to individual and societal behavior that reduce pollution and emissions for conservation of clean air.
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