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Improving decision-making competence and associated quality of life across the lifespan

Final Report Summary - LIFESPAN DMC (Improving decision-making competence and associated quality of life across the lifespan)

Population age is increasing in the EU and the US. Across the life span, people face decisions about their health, finances and well-being. People of all ages therefore need good decision-making competence, referring to the ability to avoid decision biases and to obtain desired life outcomes. Research on cognitive aging suggests that age-related declines in fluid cognitive abilities such as working memory start around age 20, threatening the quality of older adults’ decisions and associated quality of life. This project therefore aimed to (1) understand the relationship between aging and decision-making competence across a variety of decision tasks; (2) identify non-cognitive skills that facilitate better decision-making competence in older age; and (3) inform programs to build those skills that promote decision-making competence across the lifespan. In research with age-diverse samples in different countries, we found that older adults do indeed perform worse than younger adults on cognitively demanding decision tasks, which may be explained by age-related declines in fluid cognitive ability as well as age-related declines in the motivation to think hard about complex problems. However, older adults can perform just as well as younger adults on decision tasks that are less cognitively demanding, require more experience and better emotional coping skills. For example, older adults outperform younger adults on decision tasks that involve losses, which may be due to older adults’ better emotional coping with losses. Intervention programs that aim to promote decision-making competence therefore should reduce cognitive complexity, increase reliance on experience, and build emotional coping skills. Such interventions bring the promise of improving life decision outcomes across the lifespan. Upon completion of this project (August 2017), this project has led to 12 peer-reviewed publications, 4 book chapters, 23 presentations at academic meetings, as well as 10 outreach activities with practitioners, pension providers, and wider audiences. For more information, please see: