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Risky Behaviors Decrease as One Ages, Study Reports

Update Date: Sep 30, 2013 03:34 PM EDT

When children grow up, they inevitably take on more responsibilities. During high school and college years, young adults are still learning how to become a part of the real world as they experiment with new things. Since teenagers and young adults are still learning, they might be more inclined to take risks in certain situations. However, making risky decisions start to decline as one ages. A new study is reporting that as people grow older, their inclination to take risks during decision-making decreases, which could hinder their own welfare.

For this study, the research team from Yale School of Medicine headed by Ifat Levy, an assistant professor in comparative medicine and neurobiology enlisted the help of 135 healthy participants. The researchers were interested in how these participants made decisions depending on their ages, which ranged from 12 to 90. They measured the participants' attitudes toward risk and ambiguity.

Throughout the study, the participants made a total of 320 decisions that were grouped in either gain or loss trials. During the gain trials, the participants had to choose between winning five dollars and a lottery ticket that would result in unknown gains that could be higher or lower than five dollars. The loss trials were designed in the same way but with negative numbers. For example, a participant would be asked if they wanted to lose five dollars or take the risk of losing eight dollars or nothing at all.  

The researchers found that on average, the older participants made choices that resulted in the lowest monetary outcomes when compared to midlife participants. This meant that that older people were more willing to lose a certain amount of money than take the risk and lose either more money or nothing at all. The researchers believe that as one ages, the decision-making process could be jeopardized, which results in low gains for older people.

"This is an issue of pressing importance that has only received limited attention," said Levy. "It is often assumed that decision-makers at any age have both the right and ability to make their own choices that maximizes their welfare, but our data suggest that this one-size-fits-all approach may be wrong for models that target broad populations."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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