Older Adults Are Highly Responsive to Recent Events During Decision-Making

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Recent work suggests that older adults’ decision-making behavior is highly affected by recent events. In the present work, younger and older adults performed a 2-choice task where 1 option provided a larger average reward, but there was a large amount of noise around the mean reward for each option, which led to sharp improvements or declines in rewards over trials. Older adults showed greater responsiveness to recent events than younger adults as evidenced by fits of Reinforcement Learning (RL) models. Older adults were particularly sensitive to recent negative events, which was evidenced by a strong tendency for older adults to switch to the other option following steep declines in reward. This tendency led to superior performance for older adults in 1 condition where heightened sensitivity to recent negative events was advantageous. These results extend prior work that has found an older adult bias toward negative feedback and suggest that older adults engage in more abrupt switching in response to negative outcomes than younger adults.

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