Age differences in strategy selection and risk preference during risk-based decision making

Rachel D. Samson, Anu Venkatesh, Adam W. Lester, A. Tobias Weinstein, Peter Lipa, Carol A. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Studies of the effects of aging on decision making suggest that choices can be altered in a variety of ways depending on the situation, the nature of the outcome and risk, or certainty levels. To better characterize how aging impacts decision making in rodents, young and aged Fischer 344 rats underwent a series of probabilistic discounting tasks in which reward magnitude and probabilities were manipulated. Young rats tended to choose 1 of 2 different strategies: (a) to press for the large/uncertain reward, regardless of the reward probability; or (b) to continually adapt their behavior according to the odds of winning. The first strategy was adopted by about half of the younger rats, the second by the remaining young animals and the entire group of aged rats. Additionally, we found that when the odds of winning were varied from uncertain to certain during a session, aged rats chose most often the lever associated with the small/certain reward. This is consistent with an interpretation of increased risk aversion. When this behavior was further characterized using a lose-shift analysis, it appears that older rats exhibited an increased sensitivity to negative feedback. In contrast, sensitivity to wins was unaltered in aged rats compared with young, suggesting that aging selectively impacts rat's behavior following losses. In line with some human aging studies, it appears that aged rats are either more risk averse or have a greater certainty bias, which may result from age differences in emotion regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-148
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Cost-benefit ratio
  • Reward
  • Risk discounting
  • Uncertainty
  • Win-stay/lose-shift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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