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Journal Article

Risk Taking for Potential Reward Decreases across the Lifespan

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Rutledge, R., Smittenaar, P., Zeidman, P., Brown, H., Adams, R., Lindenberger, U., et al. (2016). Risk Taking for Potential Reward Decreases across the Lifespan. Current Biology, 26(12), 1634-1639. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.05.017.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-C298-7
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 [1]. Although some studies have found that older individuals are more risk averse than younger ones [2, 3, 4], there are also conflicting results, and a recent meta-analysis found no evidence for a consistent change in risk taking across the lifespan [5]. 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.