It is not a secret that older people tend to be more careful about what they do. Sometimes we think that they have always been like that and it depends on the personality of the person. But now scientists from UCL conducted a study, which argues that declining levels of dopamine in the brain are the reason why seniors are willing to take fewer risks.
It is also interesting how scientists came up with a proof that older people do not like taking risks. They used an app, called The Great Brain Experiment, in which participants had to choose gamble strategies in order to win. There were 25,189 smartphone users aged 18-69 participating in the study. While younger people were willing to take more risky gambles, seniors usually avoided that. However, these groups did not differ much when choosing risky gambles to avoid losing points.
This means that older people are not simply avoiding any kind of risks – they are not willing to take only some. Scientists noticed that this steady decline in being more spontaneous taking risks matches decline in dopamine levels – they fall by up to 10% every decade. It is a substance in the brain, which helps people predicting which option will lead to bigger rewards. Unsurprisingly, boosting dopamine levels lead to more risky decisions too.
Dr Robb Rutledge, lead author of the study, explained: “Older people were not more risk-averse overall, and they didn’t make more mistakes than young people did. Older people were simply less attracted to big rewards and this made them less willing to take risks to try to get them”.
In the game participants had to choose between a risky trial and a safe one. Sometimes risky trial meant that you could win nothing, but sometimes it meant that you can lose points. 18-24 year olds gambled in 72% of the gain trials, compared to 64% in the 60-69 age group, but only all age groups chose to gamble in approximately 56% of the loss trials and 67% of the mixed trials.
These findings are interesting even in terms of political campaigns. For example, politicians usually talk about negative consequences of a “bad” decision rather than positive of the good one. This is because negative messages affect older population more and, of course, seniors tend to be more active voters.
This study is also very interesting, because of the technology used – it required only a simple app, a smartphone game, to survey all of these participants. Such apps also allow for a bigger variety of people, participants can do experiment in their home environment, it does not require a lot of time and so on. Hopefully, we will see more interesting results from The Great Brain Experiment in the near future.