Background: The problems that some community-dwelling elderly persons develop in real-world decision-making may have disastrous consequences for their health and financial well-being. Investigations across the adult life span have identified personality as an important individual differences variable that is related to decision-making ability. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between personality characteristics, as rated by an informant, and complex decision-making performance among elderly persons. It was hypothesized that deficits in decision-making would be associated with personality characteristics reflecting weak executive functioning (Lack of Planning, Poor Judgment, Lack of Persistence, Perseveration, Lack of Initiative, Impulsivity, and Indecisiveness).
Methods: Fifty-eight elderly persons participated. Their health and cognitive status were deemed intact via comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation. The Iowa Scales of Personality, completed by an informant, was used to assess personality characteristics, and the Iowa Gambling Task, completed by the participant, was used to assess complex decision-making abilities.
Results: Longstanding disturbances in executive personality characteristics were found to be associated with poor decision-making, and these disturbances remained predictive of poor decision-making even after taking into consideration demographic, neuropsychological, and mood factors. Acquired personality disturbances did not add significantly to prediction after longstanding disturbances were taken into account. Disturbances in other dimensions of personality were not significantly associated with poor decision-making.
Conclusions: Our study suggests that attentiveness to the personality correlates of difficulties with aspects of executive functioning over the adult years could enhance the ability to identify older individuals at risk for problems with real-world decision-making.