Aging Does Not Impair Decision-Making, According to New MetLife Mature Market Institute Study

  Aging Does Not Impair Decision-Making, According to New MetLife Mature
  Market Institute Study

                   Age Does Provide Some Cognitive Benefits

Business Wire

NEW YORK -- December 19, 2012

Contrary to conventional wisdom that cognitive function declines beginning in
the mid-forties, aging does not correlate with deteriorating ability to think
for ourselves. These are the findings of “Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions:
The MetLife Study of Decision-Making Potential,” one of the first projects to
investigate the connection between cognitive health, aging and decision making
capacity. The research was conducted with men and women in their 50s, 60s and
70s by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Center for BrainHealth at
The University of Texas at Dallas. The study demonstrates that age alone is
not a key factor in predicting the ability to make decisions.

Focusing on healthy adults in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, the researchers found
that those who demonstrated smart decision-making also excelled at strategic
learning—the ability to sift more important information from the less

Although study participants in all three life stages had about the same
strategic learning abilities, the oldest participant group slightly surpassed
the rest, implying strategic learning capacity may actually increase with age
in normally functioning adults.

Additional findings show that older study participants (those in their 70s)
were more conscientious, remained vigilant (i.e., considered their options
before making a decision) and avoided being hyper-vigilant (i.e., focused on
immediate solutions without considering other outcomes) when compared to the
younger group (those in their 50s).

Researchers gauged participants’ financial conscientiousness (i.e., being
careful and organized) using a series of questions regarding monthly budgeting
practices and financial retirement plans. The full study, along with consumer
tips Is Your Decision-Making Style Healthy?, is available here.

The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions project contends that previous large
sample studies documenting declines in the ability to think logically and
solve problems, starting as early as age 40, fail to identify individual
factors which contribute to declining decision-making capacity, such as early
dementia or other medical causes. Moreover, they ignore such positive
age-related aspects as extensive life experience, reasoning ability and
accumulated knowledge that may preserve or even enhance decision-making.

“Combining these findings with emerging evidence of retained cognitive brain
health in aging suggests that policies aimed at protecting those most
vulnerable to poor decision-making should focus on impairment caused by an
underlying medical condition, rather than age itself, as a risk factor,” said
Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
“Rather than attributing impaired decision-making to age alone, approaches
that assess an individual’s strategic learning ability and cognitive function
can improve our understanding of decision-making capacity at all ages and
between genders.”

“The study findings are a crucial first step to move beyond age as a
demographic factor used to explain impaired decision-making,” said Sandra
Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at
The University of Texas at Dallas. “Policies and practices that focus
exclusively on age-related declines in decision-making will unnecessarily
curtail the autonomy of older adults with preserved cognitive function. Age is
not a disease, therefore noticeable drops in mental decline warrant medical
attention to determine cause and best course of action. Maximizing cognitive
potential is possible across the lifespan.”

Among the study’s key findings are the following:

Healthy aging adults show no decline in decision-making - Older
decision-makers were as logically consistent as younger decision-makers.
Increased age alone — from the early 50s through the late 70s — was not a key
factor in predicting impaired decision-making capacity.

Strategic learning capacity may actually increase with age - All three age
groups were comparable as strategic learners. Those in their 70s performed at
least as well as the 50s age group on a cognitive measure of strategic
learning. All groups performed similarly when asked to filter the most
relevant information from the extraneous.

Strategic learners are less likely to fall victim to bias toward riskier
options - Participants who performed well in sifting important information on
the strategic learning measure, a tool used by researchers, made more
logically consistent financial decisions. Those who performed poorly on
strategic learning were less logically consistent and showed more bias toward
riskier choices resulting in potential financial gain or loss.

Conscientious decision-making intensifies with age – A self-assessment
revealed  older decision-makers were more conscientious (i.e., careful and
organized) than those in the younger age group.

Risk tolerance can be linked to cognitive ability - Overall, men and women
performed equally at logically consistent decision-making and at strategic
learning. In both men and women, strategic learning proficiency was associated
with the ability to make logically consistent (risk averse) decisions.

There were differences between men and women in the relationship between
decision-making and traditional measures of cognitive function - Men with
average cognitive function demonstrated the highest risk-seeking (lowest
logical consistency) in decision-making of any group. Men in the superior
cognitive range were the most conservative followed by women in the average
cognitive range. Decision-making and what impacts risk-aversion and
risk-seeking are of particular interest since women become the lead
decision-makers later in life due to loss of spouses and longer life spans.


The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions study, available online, was conducted by
the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and the
University of California, San Francisco in partnership with the MetLife Mature
Market Institute from October 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. A sample of 72
adults (31 men and 41 women) was recruited from the Dallas-Fort Worth
community. Ages were evenly divided between men and women within each of the
three decades (50s, 60s, and 70s).

Center for BrainHealth, University of Texas at Dallas

The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas was created in
1999 and is committed to its mission: To understand, protect and heal the
brain. With more than 60 fully-funded research projects, the Center for
BrainHealth has made major progress in understanding how the brain adopts
strategies to learn and reason, protecting the brain from unnecessary
cognitive decline, and healing the brain through treatments and training
programs that regenerate brain function.

The MetLife Mature Market Institute®

Celebrating its 15-year anniversary in 2012, the MetLife Mature Market
Institute is Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's (MetLife) center of
expertise in aging, longevity and the generations and is a recognized thought
leader by business, the media, opinion leaders and the public. The Institute's
groundbreaking research, insights, strategic partnerships and consumer
education expand the knowledge and choices for those in, approaching or
working with the mature market.

The Institute supports MetLife's long-standing commitment to identifying
emerging issues and innovative solutions for the challenges of life. MetLife,
Inc. is a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit
programs, serving 90 million customers. Through its subsidiaries and
affiliates, MetLife holds leading market positions in the United States,
Japan, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. For more information,
please visit:


DJC Communications
Debra Caruso, 212-971-9708
Meghan Lantier, 212-578-6734
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