Social economic decision-making across the lifespan: An fMRI investigation.Neuropsychologia. 2012 Jun; 50(7):1416-24.N
Recent research in neuroeconomics suggests that social economic decision-making may be best understood as a dual-systems process, integrating the influence of deliberative and affective subsystems. However, most of this research has focused on young adults and it remains unclear whether our current models extend to healthy aging. To address this question, we investigated the behavioral and neural basis of simple economic decisions in 18 young and 20 older healthy adults. Participants made decisions which involved accepting or rejecting monetary offers from human and non-human (computer) partners in an Ultimatum Game, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The partners' proposals involved splitting an amount of money between the two players, and ranged from $1 to $5 (from a $10 pot). Relative to young adults, older participants expected more equitable offers and rejected moderately unfair offers ($3) to a larger extent. Imaging results revealed that, relative to young participants, older adults had higher activations in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) when receiving unfair offers ($1-$3). Age group moderated the relationship between left DLPFC activation and acceptance rates of unfair offers. In contrast, older adults showed lower activation of bilateral anterior insula in response to unfair offers. No age group difference was observed when participants received fair ($5) offers. These findings suggest that healthy aging may be associated with a stronger reliance on computational areas subserving goal maintenance and rule shifting (DLPFC) during interactive economic decision-making. Consistent with a well-documented "positivity effect", older age may also decrease recruitment of areas involved in emotion processing and integration (anterior insula) in the face of social norm violation.