Research has shown that younger adults are better decision makers than older ones, but a new study has proven that theory wrong.
Researchers at Texas A&M University believed the earlier research was biased toward younger brains, so they approached the topic from a different angle. Instead of testing the ability to make decisions one at a time without regard to past or future, as earlier research did, these scientists designed a model that required participants to evaluate each result in order to strategize the next choice, more like real world decision making.
In one experiment, groups of college-age adults and older adults (ages 60 to early 80s) received points each time they chose from one of four options and tried to maximize the points they earned. The younger adults were more efficient at making choices that yielded more points in this portion. In another experiment, the rewards received depended on the choices they had previously made. The “decreasing option” gave more points on each trial, but caused rewards on future trials to be lower. The “increasing option” yielded a smaller reward on each trial but caused rewards on future trials to increase. There were two versions of the test, and the older adults did better on both.
The study authors concluded that the younger adults were better when they only needed to consider the immediate rewards, while the older adults did better when it came to developing a theory about how rewards in the environment were structured, because in this case the more experience you have in this, the better you are at it. They theorize that these results are related to the ways we use our brains as we age, and the fact that older adults have gained wisdom — and a number of reasoning methods — from years of decision making experience.