Decision making quality of younger and older adults in familiar and unfamiliar domains
The older adult population of the United States is expected to increase substantially in the next twenty years. Working memory, one of the cognitive resources crucial for decision making, declines with age. The decline in working memory might have a negative effect on the quality of purchasing decisions that older adults make. However, older adults have greater experience than younger adults and may be able to use past knowledge or schemas to assist them in decision making. By using a schema in familiar situations, older adults can conserve cognitive resources and thereby make high quality decisions. In this study, age-related changes in decision-making were examined as a function of age and familiarity. Participants consisted of 55 younger adults and 46 older adults. Participants were presented with purchasing scenarios and asked to choose between two products described in the scenario. In each instance, inferencing was required to select the optimal option from the two choices. Domain knowledge about the to-be-purchased product was also manipulated. Results support the hypothesis that younger adults generally make good quality decisions regardless of the domain while older adults make better quality decisions in the familiar domain as opposed to the unfamiliar domain. Current findings suggest that although adult decision making ability is compromised with age, older adults are able to use existing domain knowledge of a specific area to compensate for the lack of cognitive resources in order to make high quality decisions.