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Risk aversion in old age down to changes in brain structure, scans suggest

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Risk aversion in old age down to changes in brain structure, scans suggest Empty Risk aversion in old age down to changes in brain structure, scans suggest

Post  dirge on Thu Dec 15, 2016 1:12 pm

The older we get, the fewer risks we take. But what lies behind people’s more cautious behaviour in their older years has been one of the unsolved puzzles of human behaviour.

Now, researchers have found a clue in the form of brain scans which revealed that changes in grey matter can predict risk-taking behaviour more than a person’s age itself.

Brain scans of 52 volunteers aged 18 to 88 found that the volume of grey matter in a region of the brain called the right posterior parietal cortex tended to be smaller in those who were more conservative in their decision-making.

And while grey matter in the brain diminishes with age, the researchers at Yale University in Connecticut noticed that when both age and grey matter volume were taken into account, the grey matter seemed to matter most.

If the scientists are right, the findings could support the idea that people become more risk-averse in their old age not because they are wiser, but as a result of having what the scientists call “limited neural computational capacity”.

Taking fewer risks might generally be regarded as a good thing. People tend to take the most risks in adolescence, a trend which plays a major role in the high numbers of young people killed in road traffic accidents. But in older age and in some mental disorders, people can become so risk-averse that it is counterproductive. People might take out unnecessary insurance policies, or not invest their savings out of fear of taking any risks at all.

Ifat Levy, a neuroscientist who led the research at Yale, said the latest work could potentially lead to new interventions – in the form of drugs or behavioural therapies – to boost people’s decision-making skills as they age or develop conditions that affect their ability to make good choices.


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