Risk avoidance in older adults is related to brain anatomy, not age
15 December 2016
An international study co-authored by an Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience researcher has found that risk avoidance in older adults may be linked to changes in brain anatomy, rather than to age.
The paper 'Neuroanatomy accounts for age-related changes in risk preferences,' was published in Nature Communications journal on 13th December 2016 and was co-authored by Dr Sharon Gilaie-Dotan of the ICN. Co-authors include Dr Agnieszka Tymula (University of Sydney), Professor Paul W. Glimcher (New York University), Dr Ifat levy (Yale University) and Dr Michael Grubb (Trinity College).
Research has previously demonstrated that older adults are less likely to take certain types of risks; Dr Gilaie-Dotan and colleagues had also previously documented the link between tolerance for taking risks and grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex, found in the back of the brain. They had found that the more grey matter young adults had, the more likely they were to take risks.
In the new study, Dr Gilaie-Dotan and colleagues examined this link in older adults. 52 study participants aged 18 to 88 years were presented with a series of choices to either receive $5 or to take their chances with a lottery of varying amounts and probabilities. They were each then assigned a number to denoting their level of risk tolerance based on their choices. The researchers also examined their grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex using MRI scans.
After analysing these results, the scientists confirmed that age-related decline in risk tolerance correlates more with changes in brain anatomy than with age.
Dr Gilaie-Dotan said, "We found that if we use both the grey matter volume and age together as predicators of risk attitudes, the grey matter volume is significant, while age is not. This means that grey matter volume accounts for age-related changes in risk attitude more than age itself.'
The study, supported by the National Institute on Ageing (USA), provides new insight into neurological factors that affects risk preferences and decision making among older adults. Dr Levy said that may also lead to behavioural or pharmacological strategies for modifying flawed decision making.
Image: rPPC grey-matter volume accounts for risk tolerance after controlling for age.