Influences of Complexity on Decision Making in Young and Older Adults


  • Stephen Badham
  • Calum A Hamilton


Leading theory hypothesizes that age deficits in decision making may rise as the complexity of decision-related information increases. This suggests that older adults would benefit relative to young adults from simplification of information used to inform decision making. Participants indicated political, nutritional and medical preferences and then chose between politicians, foods and medicines. The amount of information presented was systematically varied but age differences were largely similar for simple and complex trials. Paradoxically, the data showed that decisions based on simpler information could be less aligned with participant’s preferences than decisions based on more complex information. Further analyses suggested that participants may have been responding purely on the basis of their most valued preferences and that when information about those preferences was not presented, decision making became poorer. Contrary to our expectations, simplification of information by exclusion may therefore hinder decision making and may not particularly help older adults.