Psychophysiological anticipation of positive outcomes promotes advantageous decision-making in normal older persons

Int J Psychophysiol. 2006 Jul;61(1):19-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2005.10.021. Epub 2006 Jan 19.


Previous studies have demonstrated that aging has an adverse effect on laboratory decision-making in some older adults, and such findings have important implications for real-world reasoning and judgment. Emotion, and its accompanying somatic responses, is thought to contribute significantly to decision-making. In the present study, we had two objectives: 1) to investigate decision-making in a new sample of elderly participants, using the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT); and 2) to investigate psychophysiological correlates of decision-making, focusing on anticipatory skin conductance responses (SCRs) that participants produce immediately prior to their behavioral response. We hypothesized that the previous behavioral findings would be replicated, and further, that the older adult participants with IGT impairments would show a lack of discriminatory anticipatory SCRs during the IGT. The results supported both predictions. First, a subgroup of the new elderly sample demonstrated impaired decision-making on the IGT, replicating our previous findings. Second, the participants with impaired IGT performance failed to demonstrate discriminatory anticipatory SCRs for advantageous versus disadvantageous choices, whereas participants with normal IGT performance did demonstrate such discrimination; in the latter case, however, SCR magnitude was higher for advantageous decisions (unlike the pattern in young normal adults). Our data lead to the suggestion that strong decision-making abilities among older adults may be a function of positive somatic markers, whereas poor decision-making abilities may arise from an abnormal somatic response generated in anticipation of a future event.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Gambling / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychophysiology
  • Set, Psychology*