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The breakdown of dopamine leads to a decrease in the risk tolerance among older people
Older people are usually a bit more careful and conservative compared to young people. Is that due to the wisdom and experience of age? Researchers have now found that the level of a chemical in the brain decreases with age. This makes our behavior less impulsive and we take fewer dangers to achieve our goals.
Scientists from University College London have now found in an investigation that the decline in dopamine levels in older people means that those affected take fewer risks. In addition, older people are less likely to show impulsive behavior. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Current Biology".
Study examines more than 25,000 people
The new study examined more than 25,000 people between the ages of 18 and 69. It turned out that older people take fewer risks to win in a smartphone app, the authors explain. However, the older subjects did not differ in their playing behavior from younger participants when it came to losing fewer points due to risky moves. It has long been widely accepted that older people take fewer risks. The new study now shows exactly what risks the older subjects avoid, the researchers report.
So-called happiness hormone affects our behavior when it comes to profits
Declining dopamine levels in the elderly lead to a steady decline in risky decisions. The dopamine level drops by about ten percent every decade after adulthood, the doctors explain. Volunteers won more money and were willing to play much more riskily when given a drug that significantly increases dopamine levels, the experts add. Dopamine is popularly known as the happiness hormone. The material rewards us, for example, for winnings due to risky behavior in the game.
Older people are less attracted to big rewards
Because our dopamine levels decrease with age, we are unlikely to experience the same rewarding feelings of happiness. That's why we adjust our behavior and avoid risky moves, explains Dr. Robb Rutledge from University College London. The effects that we observed in the experiment could be due to a decrease in dopamine, the researchers continued. The assumption is also supported by the way dopamine drugs affect our decision making, the experts add. Older people weren't as risk-taking anymore, but they didn't make more mistakes than the young people in the test. Older people just seem less attracted to big rewards. That's why these subjects take fewer risks trying to get the bigger rewards, explains Dr. Rutledge.
Researchers are testing risk taking with a gambling app
Three different experiments were carried out in the experiment. The subjects started with one of the gambling apps with 500 points. The aim of the test persons in the first attempt (profit test) was to win as many points as possible. For this, they had to take part in 30 different test situations, which always made them choose between a safe winning option and a risky 50/50 chance, the scientists explain. The players could either choose a guaranteed number of points or use the 50/50 chance to get higher winnings. Of course, they also had the risk of not winning anything, the experts add.
Test results of the gambling app
In the second attempt (loss test), the study examined how risk-taking was when players could safely lose a certain number of points or lose either more or no points through gambling, the researchers explain. In the last mixed test, players could choose not to get points or take a risk and win or lose points. On average, around 56 percent of the loss study and 67 percent of the mixed study chose the gambling variant for all age groups, the doctors explain. In the profit study, around 72 percent of the 18 to 24 year old participants still use the game of chance. The value fell to 64 percent in older people between 60 and 69 years. The loss of dopamine could explain why older people are less attracted to the promise of potential gains, the authors explain.
Decreasing dopamine levels make older people less receptive to positive approaches
Decisions about potential losses were not affected because various important processes affect the losses that are not related to our aging, the experts say. Negative effects tend to help convince older people, while an optimistic approach and huge potential rewards appeal to younger people, the scientists add. Our new findings offer a possible neuroscientific explanation that the natural decrease in dopamine levels makes older people less susceptible to positive approaches compared to decision-making at a younger age, explains Dr. Rutledge. (as)