Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Why we become more cautious with age.

Rutledge et al. find that the decrease in risk-taking that occurs on aging may be related to dopamine-modulated changes in Pavlovian approach behavior, and not a reduction in the subjective value of incremental rewards as traditional models from economics and psychology would have claimed.

•Aging reduced risk taking for potential gains but not potential losses
•Computational models revealed that a Pavlovian influence of reward decreased with age
•Age-related dopamine decline can explain the decrease in Pavlovian biaseswhy we
The extent to which aging affects decision-making is controversial. Given the critical financial decisions that older adults face (e.g., managing retirement funds), changes in risk preferences are of particular importance. Although some studies have found that older individuals are more risk averse than younger ones, there are also conflicting results, and a recent meta-analysis found no evidence for a consistent change in risk taking across the lifespan. There has as yet been little examination of one potential substrate for age-related changes in decision-making, namely age-related decline in dopamine, a neuromodulator associated with risk-taking behavior. Here, we characterized choice preferences in a smartphone-based experiment (n = 25,189) in which participants chose between safe and risky options. The number of risky options chosen in trials with potential gains but not potential losses decreased gradually over the lifespan, a finding with potentially important economic consequences for an aging population. Using a novel approach-avoidance computational model, we found that a Pavlovian attraction to potential reward declined with age. This Pavlovian bias has been linked to dopamine, suggesting that age-related decline in this neuromodulator could lead to the observed decrease in risk taking.
(You might also check out this article on how monkeys, like humans, become less sociable with age.)

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