Poor decision making among older adults is related to elevated levels of neuroticism

Ann Behav Med. 2009 Apr;37(2):164-72. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9094-7. Epub 2009 Apr 7.


Background: A well-studied index of reasoning and decision making is the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). The IGT possesses many features important to medical decision making, such as weighing risks and benefits, dealing with unknown outcomes, and making decisions under uncertainty.

Purpose: There exists a great deal of individual variability on the IGT, particularly among older adults, and the present study examines the role of personality in IGT performance. We explored which of the five-factor model of personality traits were predictive of decision-making performance, after controlling for relevant demographic variables.

Methods: One hundred and fifty-two healthy cognitively intact adults (aged 26-85) were individually administered the IGT and the NEO Five-Factory Inventory.

Results: In the older adults, but not the younger, higher NEO neuroticism was associated with poorer IGT performance.

Conclusions: Our findings are discussed in the context of how stress may impact cognitive performance and cause dysfunction of neural systems in the brain important for decision making.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Gambling*
  • Games, Experimental*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurotic Disorders / psychology*
  • Personality*
  • Reference Values
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology