Aging and Decision-Making Competence

Wandi Bruine de Bruin

Around the world, average life expectancy is increasing.  Adults of all ages face important decisions that affect their life outcomes and overall well-being.  This paper reviews recent developments in research on age differences in decision-making competence. The measurement of age differences in decision-making competence is grounded in normative theories of decision making, which posit how people should be making decisions, as well as descriptive research, which aims to examine how people actually make decisions.  Studies on age differences in decision making have shown mixed patterns of results, perhaps because of having included a wide range of decision-making competence tasks.  Each decision task may rely on a different combination of skills, with some showing age-related declines and others showing no change or improvements with age.  Here, I discuss the potential skills that may contribute to making good decisions, including cognitive deliberation, experience, emotions, and motivation.  Although fluid cognitive abilities that underlie cognitive deliberation are known to decline with age, the others show different developments with age.  I also discuss potential interventions that aim to target cognitive deliberation, experience, emotions, and motivation, so as to promote better decisions and associated life outcomes across the life span.

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