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Cognition. 2015 Sep;142:60-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.004. Epub 2015 May 25.

The role of cognitive abilities in decisions from experience: Age differences emerge as a function of choice set size.

Author information

1
University of Basel, Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Decision Sciences, Missionsstrasse 64A, CH-4055 Basel, Switzerland; Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Lentzeallee 94, DE-14195 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address: renato.frey@unibas.ch.
2
University of Basel, Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Decision Sciences, Missionsstrasse 64A, CH-4055 Basel, Switzerland; Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Lentzeallee 94, DE-14195 Berlin, Germany.
3
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Lentzeallee 94, DE-14195 Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

People seldom enjoy access to summarized information about risky options before making a decision. Instead, they may search for information and learn about environmental contingencies-thus making decisions from experience. Aging is associated with notable deficits in learning and memory-but do these translate into poorer decisions from experience? We report three studies that used a sampling paradigm to investigate younger (M=24 years) and older (M=71 years) adults' decisions from experience. In Study 1 (N=121) participants made 12 decisions between pairs of payoff distributions in the lab. Study 2 (N=70) implemented the same paradigm using portable devices, collecting 84 decisions per individual over a week. Study 3 (N=84) extended the sampling paradigm by asking participants to make 12 decisions between two, four, and eight payoff distributions (in the lab). Overall, the behavioral results suggest that younger and older adults are relatively similar in how they search and what they choose when facing two payoff distributions (Studies 1 and 2). With an increasing number of payoff distributions, however, age differences emerged (Study 3). A modeling analysis on the level of individual participants showed that a simple delta-learning rule model best described the learning processes of most participants. To the extent that ongoing updating processes unfold relatively automatically and effortlessly, older adults may be liberated from the detrimental consequences of cognitive aging in the case of decisions from experience with few decision options. We discuss implications for research on decisions from experience and choice performance over the lifespan.

KEYWORDS:

Aging; Cognitive abilities; Cognitive modeling; Decisions from experience; Information sampling; Risky choice

PMID:
26022497
DOI:
10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.004
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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