This application examines adult age differences in preferences for and responses to temporal sequences of events. Many important life choices require decision-makers to sort a given set of events into a preferred temporal order. The resulting sequences have potential implications for health, wealth, productivity, and happiness. Because of age-related limitations in physical health and other resources, constructing advantageous sequences is particularly relevant for older adults. To date, research on sequence preferences is limited by an almost exclusive focus on younger samples and on hypothetical choices. Further, although younger adults appear to show a general preference for improving sequences, most prior research did not implement realistic outcomes. Thus, the temporal dynamics of people's actual experiences over the course of a given sequence remain largely unexplored. At the same time, basic research on age differences in emotion-regulatory strategies and resources, motivational priorities, and time horizons would suggest that age groups differ in sequence preferences as well as affective and physiological responses to different types of sequences. To provide a better understanding of these issues, we propose to adapt existing paradigms from the behavioral economics literature to implement sequence selection tasks with realistic and immediate consequences across a range of practically relevant domains. To gauge potential implications for well-being, we plan to track self-reported affect and psychophysiological responses over the course of the resulting sequences. Specifically, we aim to (1) quantify adult age differences in sequence preferences for monetary payouts, effortful performance, and aversive physical outcomes, (2) examine age differences in trajectories of self-reported affect and physiological arousal over the course of different types of sequences, and (3) investigate relevant explanatory variables including emotion-regulatory strategies, time horizons, and cognitive functioning. We propose to conduct a series of two studies. Study 1 will allow participants to select a preferred sequence for each domain, whereas Study 2 will assign participants to a given sequence type. Both studies will enroll demographically stratified adult life-span samples, administer sequences of events in each of the three outcome domains, track self-reported and psychophysiological responses, and examine relevant covariates.
As a result of the recent emphasis on informed medical choices, patients are increasingly involved in treatment planning. Especially in the case of chronic conditions, this requires the weighing of alternative treatment sequences against each other. A better understanding of the mechanisms that drive adult age differences in such effects is critical for the future development of appropriate behavioral interventions.