Choosing not to choose: Ambiguity aversion in younger and older adults


Knutson, Brian BW3x4
  • Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience
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Gregory Larkin
Garber good 4web
Senior Fellow

"Ambiguity aversion" occurs when people prefer making no choice at all to making an ambiguous risky choice, even if the ambiguous choice holds higher expected value. Behavioral evidence suggests that a majority of individuals show some degree of ambiguity aversion, and older adults may be especially prone to this bias, which could have specific consequences for healthcare decisions. In this study the investigators examine ambiguity aversion in young and old adults using a standard experimental "Ellsberg Paradox" task as well as a more generalizable healthcare decision-making task. Results showed that younger and older adults did not differ in their levels of aversion to ambiguity. Findings promise to inform the construction of decision-making institutions that minimize ambiguously risky choices, thereby optimizing the choices of young and old alike.

This study is a seed project for the Center on Advancing Decision Making for Aging.