The Real Reason Old People Take Fewer Risks

by Daniel Barna

It’s no hidden opinion that old people tend to live more conservatively than young people, but a new study claims to have determined its accuracy—and why. According to research conducted at the University College London, old people become less attracted to high-risk rewards due to declining dopamine levels.

Researchers analyzed data amassed from 25,000 participants aged 18 to 69 who were asked to use an app called The Great Brain Experiment, which rewards points to the users who take the riskiest gambles. After presenting them with a “gain” option, a “loss” option, and a “mixed” option, which would earn participants a certain amount of points based on the risks they were willing to take, researchers found that the older participants were less likely to make risky decisions for points, and the opposite was true for the experiment’s younger participants.

After using mathematical equations to determine how much dopamine loss would affect these decisions, researchers concluded that this loss may be the reason older people are more risk-averse.

“We know that dopamine levels decline with age, and we knew from our previous research that giving young volunteers a drug that boosts dopamine levels specifically increases willingness to take risks for big rewards,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Robb Rutledge.

One realm where these findings seem to manifest themselves in the real world is politics, as election campaigns use negative messaging to appeal to older people and use positive messages with a heavy emphasis on rewards when targeting younger voters. “They already know that negative messaging helps to persuade older people, whereas a more optimistic approach that emphasizes large potential rewards might appeal more to younger people who are less likely to vote,” Rutledge added. “Our new findings offer a potential neuroscientific explanation, suggesting that a natural decline in dopamine with age might make people less receptive to the positive approach than they would have been when they were younger.”

Age gracefully in this Ballard Designs Eton Club Chair, and let us know if you plan on taking risks even when you’re older.

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