The Dark Side of Intuition: Aging and Increases in Nonoptimal Intuitive Decisions

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Abstract

When making decisions, people typically draw on two general modes of thought: intuition and reason. Age-related changes in cognition and emotion may impact these decision processes: Although older individuals experience declines in deliberative processes, they experience stability or improvement in their emotional processes. Recent research has shown that when older adults rely more on their intact emotional abilities versus their declining deliberative faculties, the quality of their decisions is significantly improved. But how would older adults fare under circumstances in which intuitive/affective processes lead to nonoptimal decisions? The ratio bias paradigm embodies just such a circumstance, offering individuals a chance to win money by drawing, say, a red jellybean from one of two dishes containing red and white jellybeans. People will often choose to draw from a dish with a greater absolute number of winners (nine red beans and 91 white beans; 9%) than a dish with a greater probability of winning (one red bean and nine white beans; 10%) due to a strong emotional pull toward the greater number. We examined whether older adults (N = 30) would make more nonoptimal decisions on the ratio bias task than young adults (N = 30). We found that older adults did make more nonoptimal choices than their younger counterparts and that positive affect was associated with nonoptimal choices.

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