Myopia for the future or hypersensitivity to reward? Age-related changes in decision making on the Iowa Gambling Task

Emotion. 2013 Feb;13(1):19-24. doi: 10.1037/a0029970. Epub 2012 Oct 8.


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.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Forecasting
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Punishment / psychology
  • Reward*
  • Uncertainty
  • Young Adult