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Cautiousness in adulthood and old age Holliday, Stephen George


The present study examined the question of age related cautiousness in decision making. Traditional approaches to the study of age-related patterns of choice behaviour and theoretical explanations of cautiousness in risky choice situations were evaluated. An alternate approach to the study of choice behaviour in different age groups, which emphasizes the role of outcome direction, probabilities, and payoff values was presented. Peoples' preference for completely predictable and probabilistically determined response options was assessed. The sample consisted of 12 men and 12 women in 4 age groups representing young (20-30), middle (35-45) and late (50-60) adulthood, and old age (65-75). The number of completely predictable options chosen by each subject across (1) all situations, (2) gain situations only, and (3) loss situations only were calculated. An analysis of variance performed on the total number of completely predictable options chosen indicated that people of all age groups chose equivalent numbers of certain options. There were no significant effects for age group, sex, nor the age x sex interaction. A repeated measures analysis of variance performed on subjects' scores in gain and loss situations indicated that people chose more completely predictable options in gain than in loss situations. The effects of age group and sex were not significant, nor were the two and three way interactions. A second set of analyses were undertaken to relate subjects' choices to (1) the outcome direction of the situations, and (2) the expected payoff, or outcome, of the situations. Expected payoff was found to be a better predictor of choice behaviour than was outcome direction. The implications of these findings for theories of age-related cautiousness are discussed. It is suggested that theories of adult choice behaviour may have to be modified to account for the impact of situational variables on peoples' choice behaviour.

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