To deliberate or not to deliberate: Interactions between age, task characteristics, and cognitive activity on decision making



The effects of aging and deliberative activities on decision making were examined. In two separate tasks, young, middle-aged, and older adults were presented with four alternatives and given instructions to choose the best one. Following study, participants were either given additional time to think about their decision or were prevented from doing so. Decision quality did not benefit from additional deliberative activity when the structure of the stimuli facilitated fluent online processing. In contrast, deliberation promoted performance when such processing was more difficult. In addition, those individuals who focused on attribute information relevant to the decision context performed better than those who did not. Age differences in performance were minimal, but older adults with lower levels of education or cognitive ability tended to perform worse than the rest of the sample under conditions where deliberative skills were required to promote performance. The results are inconsistent with recent proposals regarding the benefits of passive deliberation. In addition, the results support the general assertion that the age effects in decision making will be most evident in situations dependent upon deliberative skills. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.