Poster B14, Sunday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Effects of acute stress on intertemporal choice and altruism in younger and older adults
Erika P. Sparrow1, Bonnie A. Armstrong1, Julia Spaniol1; 1Ryerson University
Recent work on aging and decision making suggests that aging is associated with an increase in altruism and a decrease in impulsivity and temporal discounting (i.e., the tendency to devalue delayed outcomes). However, it is unclear whether these patterns hold up when choices are made under stress, as is often the case in real-world decision scenarios. The current study used an intertemporal choice task in which younger and older adults received a financial endowment before making a series of consequential intertemporal decisions involving gains, losses, and charitable donations (e.g., donate $5 now or $7 in 30 days?). Prior to their choice task, participants underwent an acute psychosocial stress induction (Trier Social Stress Test). Stress responsivity was assessed using salivary cortisol measurement. Among older adults, cortisol responders (CRs) showed greater discounting of delayed gains and losses relative to non-responders (NRs). Older CRs also showed reduced altruism, operationalized as the difference in the proportion of larger-later choices for donations compared to losses. Among younger adults, CRs showed reduced discounting of delayed losses, and greater altruism, compared with NRs. Choice patterns of NRs in both age groups replicated results in a previous study with no stress induction. These findings are the first to demonstrate differential effects of acute stress on intertemporal choice and altruism in younger and older adults, and they highlight the need for more research on the impact of stress on decision making across the lifespan.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Development & aging