It has been shown that older adults perform less well than younger adults on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a real-world type decision-making task that factors together reward, punishment, and uncertainty. To explore the reasons behind this age-related decrement, we administered to an adult life span sample of 265 healthy participants (Mdn age = 62.00 +/- 16.17 years; range [23-88]) 2 versions of the IGT, which have different contingencies for successful performance: A'B'C'D' requires choosing lower immediate reward (paired with lower delayed punishment); E'F'G'H' requires choosing higher immediate punishment (paired with higher delayed reward). There was a significant negative correlation between age and performance on the A'B'C'D' version of the IGT (r = -.16, p = .01), while there was essentially no correlation between age and performance on the E'F'G'H' version (r = -.07, p = .24). In addition, the rate of impaired performance in older participants was significantly higher for the A'B'C'D' version (23%) compared with the E'F'G'H' version (13%). A parsimonious account of these findings is an age-related increase in hypersensitivity to reward, whereby the decisions of older adults are disproportionately influenced by prospects of receiving reward, irrespective of the presence or degree of punishment.
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