Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


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Following Your Heart or Your Head: Focusing on Emotions versus Information Differentially Influences the Decisions of Younger and Older Adults

Journal Article

Authors
Joseph A. Mikels, Lockenhoff CE, Maglio SJ, Laura L. Carstensen, Mary K. Goldstein, Alan M. Garber

Published by
Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied, Vol. 16 no. 1, page(s) 87-95
March 2010


Research on aging has indicated that whereas deliberative cognitive processes decline with age, emotional processes are relatively spared. To examine the implications of these divergent trajectories in the context of health care choices, we investigated whether instructional manipulations emphasizing a focus on feelings or details would have differential effects on decision quality among younger and older adults. We presented 60 younger and 60 older adults with health care choices that required them to hold in mind and consider multiple pieces of information. Instructional manipulations in the emotion-focus condition asked participants to focus on their emotional reactions to the options, report their feelings about the options, and then make a choice. In the information-focus condition, participants were instructed to focus on the specific attributes, report the details about the options, and then make a choice. In a control condition, no directives were given. Manipulation checks indicated that the instructions were successful in eliciting different modes of processing. Decision quality data indicate that younger adults performed better in the information-focus than in the control condition whereas older adults performed better in the emotion-focus and control conditions than in the information-focus condition. Findings support and extend extant theorizing on aging and decision making as well as suggest that interventions to improve decision-making quality should take the age of the decision maker into account. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved).