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Aging Compromises Decision-Making in Risky Situations

Aging Compromises Decision-Making in Risky Situations Older people are challenged when they are asked to make decisions in uncertain situations.

A new study also found that older people are more risk-averse than their midlife counterparts when choosing between possible gains, but more risk-seeking when choosing between losses.

The findings of researchers at Yale School of Medicine are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have long-observed that cognitive function improves throughout adolescence, peaks in adulthood, and declines with age, but behavioral changes in decision-making across a lifespan have been largely unstudied.

Experts believe these skills have implications for problems associated with poor decision-making.

Ifat Levy, Ph.D., and colleagues recruited 135 healthy participants to study how decision-making functions change across a lifespan by measuring attitudes toward risk and ambiguity between the ages of 12 and 90.

The participants made 320 choices grouped in blocks of gain and loss trials.

In gain trials, participants chose between a certain gain of $5 and a lottery that differed systematically in the amount of a possible monetary gain. Loss trials were identical to gain trials, except all amounts were negative.

In one example, a participant faced a choice between losing $5 for certain, and equal chances of losing $8 or losing nothing ($0).

This design allowed Levy and her team to estimate attitudes to both known (risky) and unknown (ambiguous) financial risks. By repeating each choice situation several times, the design also allowed the investigators to estimate how consistent the participants were in the choices they made.

On average, older adults made decisions that resulted in the lowest expected monetary outcomes, compared with midlife participants. Even the healthiest of elders showed profoundly compromised decision-making, and risk attitudes showed systematic changes across the lifespan that the authors say have important policy implications.

“This is an issue of pressing importance that has only received limited attention,” said Levy.

“It is often assumed that decision-makers at any age have both the right and ability to make their own choices that maximizes their welfare, but our data suggest that this one-size-fits-all approach may be wrong for models that target broad populations.”

Levy said this is one of the first studies done on age and preference, but further work needs to be done.

“Even though this is a small study, it revealed the existence of important age-related patterns in decision-making,” she said.

Source: Yale University

Elderly man holding coins and wallet photo by shutterstock.

Aging Compromises Decision-Making in Risky Situations

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Aging Compromises Decision-Making in Risky Situations. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/10/01/aging-compromises-decision-making-in-risky-situations/60158.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.