Individual differences in risky decision-making among seniors reflect increased reward sensitivity

James F Cavanagh, David Neville, Michael X Cohen, Irene Van de Vijver, Helga Harsay, Poppy Watson, Jessika I Buitenweg, K Richard Ridderinkhof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Increasing age is associated with subtle but meaningful changes in decision-making. It is unknown, however, to what degree these psychological changes are reflective of age-related changes in decision quality. Here, we investigated the effect of age on latent cognitive processes associated with risky decision-making on the Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART). In the BART, participants repetitively inflate a balloon in order to increase potential reward. At any point, participants can decide to cash-out to harvest the reward, or they can continue, risking a balloon pop that erases all earnings. We found that among seniors, increasing age was associated with greater reward-related risk taking when the balloon has a higher probability of popping (i.e., a "high risk" condition). Cognitive modeling results from hierarchical Bayesian estimation suggested that performance differences were due to increased reward sensitivity in high risk conditions in seniors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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