Psychology and Aging Preferences for Choice Across Adulthood: Age Trajectories and Potential Mechanisms



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satisfice

(i.e., strive to choose options that are merely good enough) versus
maximize
(i.e., strive to select the best possible option Schwartz et al., 2002). Existing research indicates that people who satisfice, relative to those who maximize, prefer and place greater value on smaller versus larger choice sets (Dar-Nimrod, Rawn, Lehman, & Schwartz, Furthermore, older adults report more satisficing tendencies than young adults (Tanius, Wood, Hanoch, & Rice, 2009). However, no
Andrew E. Reed, Joseph A. Mikels, and Corinna E. Löckenhoff, Department of Human Development, Cornell University.
Andrew E. Reed is now at the Department of Psychology, Stanford
University. Joseph A. Mikels is now at the Department of Psychology,
DePaul University.
This research is based on the doctoral dissertation of Andrew E. Reed,
chaired by Corinna E. Löckenhoff, and was supported by a dissertation grant from the Department of Human Development, Cornell University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Andrew
E. Reed, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall Building 420, Stanford
University, Stanford, CA 94305. Email andyreed@stanford.edu
Psychology and Aging 2013 American Psychological Association, Vol. 28, No. 1, 000 0882-7974/13/$12.00
DOI: a 1


prior study has examined whether age differences in maximizing are associated with choice set size preferences.

Alternatively, older adults may simply perceive large choice sets as exceeding their decision-making abilities. There is little question among researchers that increased choice poses a greater challenge to decision makers through elevated information-processing demands (Iyengar, 2010; Schwartz, 2004). Whether such demands deter versus attract decision makers, however, may depend on individuals decision-making self-efficacy (DMSE). People with higher DMSE prefer decisions that are more challenging and complex (Tabernero & Wood, 2009) and seek more information when making decisions than those who are relatively low inefficacy (Seijts, Latham, Tasa, & Latham, 2004). This pattern was found fora range of domains from consumer choices (Hu, Huh- mann, & Hyman, 2007) to health-related decisions (Woodward &

Wallston, 1987). Moreover, recent evidence indicates both correlational and causal associations between DMSE and preferences for choice among younger adults (Reed, Mikels, & Löckenhoff,
2012). Thus, older adults may prefer less choice because they have lower DMSE and wish to avoid the excessive challenges posed by large choice sets. To date, empirical evidence forage differences in DMSE is equivocal, with one study finding an increase in
DMSE with age (Löckenhoff & Carstensen, 2007), a second reporting a decrease (Woodward & Wallston, 1987), and a third reporting no association between age and DMSE (Finucane &
Gullion, 2010). However, no studies have examined DMSE in relation to age differences in choice preferences.
Other factors related to aging and/or decision making may also play a role. For instance, older adults may desire fewer options compared with younger adults because they have less need for cognition (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996), which is associated with a desire for complex and cognitively challenging tasks. Age-related limitations in future time perspective that have been associated with reduced motivation to seek information may play a role as well (Carstensen, 2006; Mather, 2006). Alternatively, age differences in choice preferences may stem from age- related impairments in fluid cognitive abilities linked with decision-making competence, such as short-term memory (STM)

and numeracy (Finucane & Gullion, 2010), or age-related declines in the personality traits of openness and conscientiousness (Ter- racciano, McCrae, Brant, & Costa, 2005), which are associated with information-seeking and desire for autonomy (Flynn Smith, 2007). Finally, it is possible that older adults have less accessible decision-making preferences, an important predictor of choice preferences in younger adults (Chernev, 2003), or that older adults simply perceive larger choice sets to be less beneficial than younger adults. To explore these possibilities, we included brief measures of each of these constructs in the present research.

The present research also extended prior work by comparing age effects across self-report and behavioral measures. A large-scale survey examined self-reported choice set size preferences fora wide range of decision domains and across the adult life span.
Expanding on previous work (Reed et al., 2008; Rozin et al.,
2006), the domains ranged from everyday choices among cellular phones and restaurants to consequential health-related decisions among physicians and prescription drug plans. A subset of younger and older participants also completed a behavioral decision task involving hypothetical choices for cars, a domain that has been successfully used in previous studies examining age differences indecision making (Johnson, 1990; Mather, Knight, & McCaffrey,
2005). Using a behavioral task not only addressed the limitations of self-report measures but also allowed us to investigate the relationship between choice set size preferences and predecisional information search. Information search is conceptually linked with choice set size preferences (Reed et al., 2008) and inversely associated with age (fora review, see Mata & Nunes, However, to our knowledge, no studies have directly investigated the link between information search and choice set size preferences across age groups. All participants also completed established measures of DMSE, maximizing, need for cognition, future time perspective, cognitive abilities, and personality traits, as well as novel measures of preference clarity and beliefs about choice.

Consistent with the prior literature, we hypothesized that self- reported choice set size preferences would be negatively associated with age. Following Rozin et al. (2006), we expected that age effects would follow a linear trend. For the behavioral decision task, we hypothesized that older adults would prefer fewer options and seek less information than younger adults, and that choice set size preferences and information search would be positively associated. As discussed above, existing evidence for explanatory variables is strongest for maximizing and DMSE, and we expected that these variables would be negatively associated with age and positively associated with choice preferences. Exploratory analyses examined the role of the remaining covariates.


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