Age differences in risky choice: a meta-analysis

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Oct;1235:18-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06200.x.

Abstract

Does risk taking change as a function of age? We conducted a systematic literature search and found 29 comparisons between younger and older adults on behavioral tasks thought to measure risk taking (N= 4,093). The reports relied on various tasks differing in several respects, such as the amount of learning required or the choice framing (gains vs. losses). The results suggest that age-related differences vary considerably as a function of task characteristics, in particular the learning requirements of the task. In decisions from experience, age-related differences in risk taking were a function of decreased learning performance: older adults were more risk seeking compared to younger adults when learning led to risk-avoidant behavior, but were more risk averse when learning led to risk-seeking behavior. In decisions from description, younger adults and older adults showed similar risk-taking behavior for the majority of the tasks, and there were no clear age-related differences as a function of gain/loss framing. We discuss limitations and strengths of past research and provide suggestions for future work on age-related differences in risk taking.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Young Adult