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The Age of Avoidance? The Roles of Context, Cognition, and Affect in Adult Age Differences in Decision Avoidance

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2024-09-05
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Abstract

Age-related increments in intentional decision avoidance pose risks to older adults’ financial and physical well-being. Because the factors underlying older adults’ avoidance tendencies remain understudied, this dissertation examines the potential roles of context, cognition, and affect across three decision avoidance phenomena: avoiding choice to maintain current circumstances, avoiding choice for the time being, and avoiding choice because not acting is preferred to acting. In a pre-registered online study, N = 500 adults (Mage = 49.90, SDage = 19.34, 18–89) were given the choice between actively rejecting and passively accepting 15 pre-selected “default” options pertaining to property rentals (Nolte & Löckenhoff, 2022). Contrary to expectations, the preference for maintaining current circumstances did not differ by age, and older adults were less likely to endorse known correlates of decision avoidance (i.e., perceived endowment or ease). Across one online and one hybrid study (N1 = 164, Mage_1 = 50.71, SDage_1 = 18.70, 19–85; N2 = 485, Mage_2 = 51.08, SDage_2 = 19.63), older age was associated with a higher likelihood of avoiding up to four health and consumer choices for the time being, with older and middle-aged but not younger adults reaping affective benefits post-avoidance (Nolte & Löckenhoff, in prep.). Higher perceived cognitive loads were linked to avoidant decision making but not the observed age-related differences. Finally, N = 90 adults (Mage = 49.81, SDage =18.71, 21–89) reported their most severe recent and long-term regrets in a laboratory-based study. Older age was associated with more inaction-based (“omission”) regrets (Nolte et al., in prep.) but not with reliance on decision avoidance to down-regulate regrets. Older adults also indicated a decreased willingness to engage with the decision process to improve their decision making. In sum, we document adult age differences in avoidance of choice for the time being as well as the preference for inaction over action, but not in the preference for maintaining current circumstances. Implications for contextual, cognitive, and affective factors relating to age-related differences within each avoidance phenomenon are being discussed.

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249 pages

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2023-08

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Affect; Aging; Cognition; Context; Decision Avoidance; Lifespan

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Loeckenhoff, Corinna

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Ong, Anthony
Gilovich, Thomas

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Human Development

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Ph. D., Human Development

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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