Life can be stressful, whether you're an individual watching the stock market crash or a commuter stuck in traffic. A new study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, examines how stress affects decision-making and finds that older adults alter their behavior more than young adults when under stress — particularly in situations involving risk.
"People haven't looked at how stress affects decision making, even though so many of our decisions are made under stress," explained Mara Mather of USC Davis School of Gerontology, lead author of the study. "There's very little information about this whole topic, and, when you get to age differences, there's even less."
Mather and her colleagues Marissa Gorlick, of the USC Emotion and Cognition Lab, and Nichole Kryla-Lighthall, a USC doctoral student, exposed young adults (18 to 33) and older adults (65 to 89) to a stressful event, in this case, holding a hand in ice-cold water for three minutes.
Participants were then asked to play a driving game correlating to a real-life situation in which taking a small amount of risk is common: whether to go for it on a yellow light. Participants started at a green light, and points were awarded for every second spent driving during a yellow, but lost if the light turned red while driving. The length of time for the yellow lights was determined randomly.
In other words, Mather explained, participants had to decide to take some risk — driving during a yellow light — to score any points at all.
"This is the way life is, quite often. To make more money in your investments, you have to take risk. To end up dating someone, you have to take the risk of going up and saying hello," Mather said. "When there's a potential payoff, most of the time you have to take some risk."
In the control group, which was not exposed to ice-cold water, older adults were actually better drivers than younger adults, the researchers found, scoring higher on the game.
However, in the stressed group, older adults were not only more cautious but were also jerkier drivers, braking and restarting almost three times as much as their calmer peers.
The differences in the effects of stress were consistent even when the researchers accounted for gender, level of education, mood and health self-ratings.
"The everyday commute can be stressful: someone cuts you off, you're late already. Are you more likely to try and take a risk than if you weren't stressed out?" Mather asks. "Our results indicate that stress changes older adults' strategies."
The exposure to ice-cold water caused a rise in levels of the hormone cortisol, measured in saliva. Cortisol levels increased significantly (and about the amount) among stressed younger and older adults, but did not change significantly from pre-test levels for the control group, which was not exposed to ice-cold water.
As Mather explained: "The brain regions that are involved in and activated by stress overlap quite a lot with the brain regions that are involved in decision making and, in particular, in decisions about risk."
The study was supported by the National Institute of Aging.Mara Mather, Marissa Gorlick, and Nichole Kryla-Lighthall, "To brake or accelerate when the light turns yellow? Stress reduces older adults' risk taking in a driving game." Psychological Science.
Suzanne Wu | EurekAlert!
Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences