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Aging and risk taking: toward an integration of cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological perspectives

Authors Shao R, Lee T

Received 21 December 2013

Accepted for publication 7 February 2014

Published 25 April 2014 Volume 2014:3 Pages 47—62

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/NAN.S35914

Checked for plagiarism Yes

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Peer reviewer comments 4


Robin Shao,1,2 Tatia MC Lee1–3

1Laboratory of Neuropsychology, 2Laboratory of Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 3The State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Abstract: In this article, we characterize the relationship between natural aging and risky decision making through an integration of cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological theories on the effects of natural aging. Based on the existing evidence, we propose that the positivity emotional bias in elderly adults steers them away from taking high risks and toward more conservative approaches during decision making as part of their positive emotional regulatory strategies. However, aging is also associated with marked declines in cognitive functioning, such as attention and working memory, as well as impaired reinforcement-based associative learning, which arises from anatomical and functional declines in the dopaminergic transmission systems and in distinct brain regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. In consequence, elderly adults may deviate from their usual conservative stance and toward more risk-taking tendencies, as observed in a subset of studies, if the demands of the risk-taking task exceed their cognitive and learning capacities. More empirical investigations are needed to determine the key factors that influence elderly individuals' decision making and behavior in risky situations. Research in this field is likely to have important practical implications for the financial and medical decision making of elderly adults, as well as promoting designated help targeting the elderly population in making important life decisions.

Keywords: risky decision making, aging, insula, cognition, dopaminergic system

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