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Emotion. 2013 Feb;13(1):19-24. doi: 10.1037/a0029970. Epub 2012 Oct 8.

Myopia for the future or hypersensitivity to reward? Age-related changes in decision making on the Iowa Gambling Task.

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Department of Neurology Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience University of Iowa College of Medicine.
Department of Behavioral Sciences Rush University Medical Center.
Department of Psychology University of Southern California.
Department of Psychology University of Iowa.
Contributed equally


It has been shown that older adults perform less well than younger adults on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a real-world type decision-making task that factors together reward, punishment, and uncertainty. To explore the reasons behind this age-related decrement, we administered to an adult life span sample of 265 healthy participants (Mdn age = 62.00 +/- 16.17 years; range [23-88]) 2 versions of the IGT, which have different contingencies for successful performance: A'B'C'D' requires choosing lower immediate reward (paired with lower delayed punishment); E'F'G'H' requires choosing higher immediate punishment (paired with higher delayed reward). There was a significant negative correlation between age and performance on the A'B'C'D' version of the IGT (r = -.16, p = .01), while there was essentially no correlation between age and performance on the E'F'G'H' version (r = -.07, p = .24). In addition, the rate of impaired performance in older participants was significantly higher for the A'B'C'D' version (23%) compared with the E'F'G'H' version (13%). A parsimonious account of these findings is an age-related increase in hypersensitivity to reward, whereby the decisions of older adults are disproportionately influenced by prospects of receiving reward, irrespective of the presence or degree of punishment.

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