Issues relating to decision-making competence are of increasing interest in the field of gerontology as the average lifespan increases, along with the number of older individuals who are faced with important life decisions having to do with health care, finances, end-of-life care, and housing. One focus of research in this realm is the assessment of the ability to both comprehend and make decisions in people who may be experiencing initial stages of dementia or whose health problems are in danger of impairing their mental abilities. It is also critical, however, that we understand how judgment and decision-making processes in healthy older adults are affected by factors associated with aging. Changes in our society have resulted in these individuals being faced with increasingly complex choices in a wide-variety of domains with important implications for physical and financial well-being, and continued independence. It is also the case that as families become more widely dispersed and the rate of technological change accelerates, older adults may be faced with making decisions without adequate social and knowledge-based supports. Finally, older adults are increasingly and disproportionately targeted for marketing scams. Thus, it is important to understand the impact that aging has on the ability to be effective evaluators of information and to make adaptive choices. The proposed research will systematically examine decision-making and aging through a series of seven studies in which individuals aged from 25 to 85 will be tested. The specific focus of the research is on the interaction between cognitive ability, emotion, experience, and motivation in determining age differences in performance. Research on judgment and decision-making processes will also help us understand the adaptive processes underlying many older adults'ability to maintain effective skills in these domains in the face of normative declines in ability.

Public Health Relevance

Effective decision-making is an important adaptive skill that is essential to older adults'ability to function independently in an increasingly complex world. The results of this research will assist us in maximizing such capabilities in later life by identifying those factors that make older adults most vulnerable to poor judgment, which in turn should assist us in structuring decision contexts to minimize their impact. This, in turn, should serve to boost well-being in later life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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North Carolina State University Raleigh
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Hess, Thomas M; Ennis, Gilda E (2014) Assessment of Adult Age differences in Task Engagement: The Utility of Systolic Blood Pressure. Motiv Emot 38:844-854
Hess, Thomas M; Smith, Brian T (2014) Aging and the impact of irrelevant information on social judgments. Psychol Aging 29:542-53
Ennis, Gilda E; Hess, Thomas M; Smith, Brian T (2013) The impact of age and motivation on cognitive effort: implications for cognitive engagement in older adulthood. Psychol Aging 28:495-504
Hess, Thomas M; Emery, Lisa; Neupert, Shevaun D (2012) Longitudinal relationships between resources, motivation, and functioning. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 67:299-308
Hess, Thomas M; Leclerc, Christina M; Swaim, Elizabeth et al. (2009) Aging and everyday judgments: the impact of motivational and processing resource factors. Psychol Aging 24:735-40
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Hess, T M; Vandermaas, M O; Donley, J et al. (1987) Memory for sex-role consistent and inconsistent actions in young and old adults. J Gerontol 42:505-11