Healthy Aging Is Associated With Decreased Risk-Taking in Motor Decision-Making

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Healthy aging is associated with changes in both cognitive abilities, including decision-making, and motor control. Previous research has shown that young healthy observers are close to optimal when they perform a motor equivalent of economic decision-making tasks that are known to produce suboptimal decision patterns. We tested both younger (age 20–29) and older (age 60–79) adults in such a task, which involved rapid manual aiming and monetary rewards and punishments contingent on hitting different areas on a touch screen. Older adults were as close to optimal as younger adults at the task, but differed from the younger adults in their strategy. Older adults appeared to be relatively less risk-seeking, as evidenced by the fact that they adjusted their aiming strategy to a larger extent to avoid the penalty area. A model-based interpretation of the results suggested that the change in aiming strategy between younger and older adults was mainly driven by the fact that the first weighted monetary gains more than losses, rather than by a mis-estimation of one’s motor variability. The results parallel the general finding that older adults tend to be less risk-seeking than younger adults in economic decision-making and complement the observation that children are even more risk-seeking than younger adults in a similar motor decision-making paradigm.

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