The age of decisions

There is a good and a bad side to most things. Mangoes taste wonderful but it is difficult to eat them with dignity and remain non-sticky of finger and mouth in the process. Lots of money allows you to do lots of things but it also requires lots of management. Boxer shorts allow for air flow but can fail to offer adequate packaging while “jockeys” provide support but things can get a little claustrophobic. Every front has a back and this is true of our passage though life itself. The ageing process has its down sides but it also has its up sides and a new study has shown that the ageing brain has ups that compensate for its downs.

For the study the researchers used one group of people aged between 18 and 29 and compared them to a group aged between 60 and 82.

Both groups were given a series of questions designed to test their decision making skills around an economic theme. The decision making traits being measured were “temporal discounting” (how much people discount future gains and losses), “loss aversion” (how much the valuation of losses outweighs gains of the same magnitude), “financial literacy” (understanding financial information), and “debt literacy” (understanding of debt contracts and interest rates).

In addition, the researchers assessed the subjects for two types of intelligence; fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to learn and process information while crystallised intelligence refers to knowledge accumulated through experience.

The results showed that older adults performed just as well as younger adults on all of the decision making measures. In fact the older people showed greater financial and debt literacy as well as having greater patience in the temporal discounting field. The older people were slightly less loss averse but not enough to be regarded as statistically significant.

So it seems that while this and other studies show that fluid intelligence declines as you age, the increase in crystallised intelligence offsets this. In other words a lifetime of decision making overcomes the declining capacity to assimilate new information. Or as the saying goes, old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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