Age Differences in Affective Decision Making as Indexed by Performance on the Iowa Gambling Task

Elizabeth Cauffman, Elizabeth P. Shulman, Laurence Steinberg, Eric Claus, Marie T. Banich, Sandra Graham, Jennifer Woolard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

340 Scopus citations


Contemporary perspectives on age differences in risk taking, informed by advances in developmental neuroscience, have emphasized the need to examine the ways in which emotional and cognitive factors interact to influence decision making. In the present study, a diverse sample of 901 individuals between the ages of 10 and 30 were administered a modified version of the Iowa Gambling Task, which is designed to measure affective decision making. Results indicate that approach behaviors (operationalized as the tendency to play increasingly from the advantageous decks over the course of the task) display an inverted U-shape relation to age, peaking in mid- to late adolescence. In contrast, avoidance behaviors (operationalized as the tendency to refrain from playing from the disadvantageous decks) increase linearly with age, with adults avoiding disadvantageous decks at higher rates than both preadolescents and adolescents. The finding that adolescents, compared to adults, are relatively more approach oriented in response to positive feedback and less avoidant in response to negative feedback is consistent with recent studies of brain development, as well as epidemiological data on various types of risky behavior, and may have important practical implications for the prevention of adolescent risk taking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-207
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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