Are Old People Wiser? Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Abstract (via neurobiologyofaging.org)
The ability to make advantageous choices among outcomes that differ in magnitude, probability, and delay until their arrival is critical for optimal survival and well-being across the lifespan. Aged individuals are often characterized as less impulsive in their choices than their young adult counterparts, demonstrating an increased ability to forgo immediate in favor of delayed (and often more beneficial) rewards. Such “wisdom” is usually characterized as a consequence of learning and life experience. However, aging is also associated with prefrontal cortical dysfunction and concomitant impairments in advantageous choice behavior. Animal models afford the opportunity to isolate the effects of biological aging on decision-making from experiential factors. To model one critical component of decision-making, young adult and aged Fischer 344 rats were trained on a two-choice delay discounting task in which one choice provided immediate delivery of a small reward and the other provided a large reward delivered after a variable delay period. Whereas young adult rats showed a characteristic pattern of choice behavior (choosing the large reward at short delays and shifting preference to the small reward as delays increased), aged rats maintained a preference for the large reward at all delays (i.e., attenuated “discounting” of delayed rewards). This increased preference for the large reward in aged rats was not due to perceptual, motor, or motivational factors. The data strongly suggest that, independent of life experience, there are underlying neurobiological factors that contribute to age-related changes in decision-making, and particularly the ability to delay gratification.