As the proportion of older adults continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, aging adults may be required to make increasingly more independent health-related and financial decisions. Thus, it is increasingly imperative to better understand the impact of age-related changes in both cognitive and affective processing on decision-making. Both behavioral and neural evidence suggests that younger and older adults differ in the processing of monetary incentives (e.g., older adults show attenuated anticipation of monetary losses), which could have specific consequences for financial decisions (e.g., older adults may be generally less sensitive to the warning signs of potential negative outcomes). Although these affective preferences may be healthy and adaptive for regulating emotional experience and optimizing well-being, they may have harmful effects on financial learning and decision making. The main objective of the proposed research is to examine age differences in incentive learning and incentive-based decision-making using both behavioral measures of performance and functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The specific aims of this proposal are to (1) investigate the influence of reinforcement valence on incentive processing across the life span, (2) examine whether older adults show the same valence asymmetry in more cognitively demanding reversal learning, and (3) examine whether older adults differ from younger adults both in rational risky decision-making and risk preference in a more applied investment decision paradigm. Findings from this line of basic research may have implications for scientists'understanding of how processes underlying decision-making change with age, and might eventually also facilitate identification of markers for suboptimal decisions in older adults. The long-term goal of this line of research is to improve the financial and emotional health of older adults by improving decision-making at the individual level.
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