Why older people take fewer risks

Older people are less willing to take risks for potential rewards, and declining levels of dopamine in the brain may explain why.  

Wellcome researcher Dr Robb Rutledge and his team studied over 25,000 people to understand risk and decision making.

They analysed how participants play a game on The Great Brain Experiment. They found that older people were less likely than younger people to choose risky gambles to gain points in the game.

But they also found there was no difference between older and younger participants when it came to choosing risky gambles to avoid losing points. 

It‘s widely assumed that older people don’t take risks, but this study shows exactly what kind of risks older people avoid.

“As we age, our dopamine levels naturally decline which could explain why we are less likely to seek rewards,” explains Dr Rutledge. “The effects we saw in the experiment may be due to dopamine decline, since age was associated with only one type of risk taking and mirrored the known effects of dopamine drugs on decision making.” 

The Great Brain Experiment app, funded by Wellcome, crowdsources data on how people think and act. If you'd like to become part of this brain research, the app is available on Apple and Google Play.  

Read more about the study in the UCL press release.