Risk taking as a function of age, monetary incentive, and gain or loss



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The purpose of this investigation was to compare elderly and younger subjects (Ss) in a chance situation designed to test the effects of age on risk taking. Measures used were probability, amount bet, and payoff choices, their variability, and latency. The effects of monetary incentive and gain or loss were also investigated. Using a payoff matrix based on a fair dice game, Ss indicated their preferences between seven probabilities and four bets by placing a chip on a marker. On each of 30 trials, Ss obtained immediate feedback following their rotation of a Bingo cage, which was designed to eject a ball. The frequency with which numbers were marked on the balls conformed to numbers presented on the payoff matrix. In turn, these frequencies were associated with probabilities. The Ss were 40 elderly males and females from recreational centers, and 40 college students of the same socioeconomic level. Half the Ss in each age group gambled with chips worth actual money, while the other half gambled with worthless chips having only token value. For each S, mean scores were separately computed for trials following a winning trial and for trials following a losing trial. It was found that elderly Ss responded more cautiously on the probability measure than did the younger Ss in that they chose higher probabilities of success. Response latency also showed an age level effect; longer latencies characterized the performance of elderly Ss in the decision making tasks. No effects of monetary incentive were found. The amount bet failed to depict age differences. All Ss, regardless of age, bet similar amounts of money. If bet choices are interpreted in terms of confidence levels, this suggests that older Ss were no less confident than younger Ss. Further support was obtained for this interpretation in the finding that older Ss bet as much money on the riskier alternatives relative to safer ones as did the younger Ss. Bet choices also were significantly affected by gain and loss. Irrespective of age, all Ss bet more following win and less follovring loss. Aging did not affect the ability to shift toward higher risk levels after gain, or to conserve by shifting toward lower risk levels after loss. There was thus no evidence that elderly Ss were less flexible or adaptable than were younger Ss. It was also found that latency changed in the direction of longer latencies after gain, and in the direction of shorter latencies after loss, irrespective of age.



Risk-taking (Psychology)