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University of Basel

04 October 2016

Do Older People Take Fewer Risks?

Studies by the University of Basel have shown that whether and how risk-taking propensity varies over a person’s life span depends in part on how risk taking is measured. When subjects are asked how they assess their risk propensity, a clear reduction with age is the result. However, this reduction is not necessarily observed for specific risk-taking tasks. Depending on the type of task set, the propensity measured in older people can be unchanged, lower or higher. These heterogeneous results could be caused by an age-related functional change in the brain.

Cognitive and decision scientists from the University of Basel carried out research into whether we engage in more or less risk-taking behavior as we get older and into the biological foundations that influence our decision making. The researchers examined, inter alia, the influence of the measurement instruments used on the observed age-related changes in risk-taking behavior. Two studies were carried out: in the first, the researchers collected data on self-assessment and behavior in risk-taking tasks from more than 1,000 subjects aged between 18 and 90. The second study used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain function of younger and older adults as they solved risk-taking tasks. 

Self-report and behavior do not always converge

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