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The Orbitofrontal Cortex, Real-World Decision Making, and Normal Aging

University of Iowa Clinical Neuropsychology

Based on recent results of 40 adults she has been studying since 2005, she believes that one-fourth to one-third of seniors in America might have some impairment to the part of the brain involved in complex decision making.

The Orbitofrontal Cortex, Real-World Decision Making, and Normal Aging
Natalie L. Denburg,a Catherine A. Cole,b Michael Hernandez,a Torricia H. Yamada,a Daniel Tranel,a Antoine Bechara,c and Robert B. Wallaced

The present series of three studies aims at investigating the hypothesis that some seemingly normal older persons have deficits in reasoning and decision making due to dysfunction in a neural system which includes the ventromedial prefrontal cortices. This hypothesis is relevant to the comprehensive study of aging, and also addresses the question of why so many older adults fall prey to fraud. To our knowledge, this work represents the first of its kind to begin to identify, from an individual-differences perspective, the behavioral, psychophysiological, and consumer correlates of defective decision making among healthy older adults. Our findings, in a cross-sectional sample of community-dwelling participants, demonstrate that a sizeable subset of older adults (approximately 35–40%) perform disadvantageously on a laboratory measure of decision making that closely mimics everyday life, by the manner in which it factors in reward, punishment, risk, and ambiguity. These same poor decision makers display defective autonomic responses (or somatic markers), reminiscent of that previously established in patients with acquired prefrontal lesions. Finally, we present data demonstrating that poor decision makers are more likely to fall prey to deceptive advertising, suggesting compromise of real-world judgment and decision-making abilities.

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Page Last Modified: February 3, 2016