Trinity College Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael A. Grubb is the first author of a paper titled “Neuroanatomy Accounts for Age-Related Changes in Risk Preferences,” which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The senior author on the paper is Ifat Levy of Yale School of Medicine.

Michael GrubbWeb700The research presented in the paper indicates that the preference for the known and familiar, which increases with aging, may be better explained by changes in grey matter in a certain brain area rather than by age. When people make decisions that involve risk, or uncertain outcomes, an area of the brain called the right posterior parietal cortex is active. The amount of grey matter in this area has been shown to correlate with risk preference in young adults. As people age, they tend to make fewer risky decisions, but whether this is due to the wisdom that comes with age or brain structure was unknown.

Grubb and his colleagues asked 52 adults, spanning the ages of 18 to 88 years, to make a choice between a certain option (gain of $5) or an uncertain option (gain ranging from $5-$120 with random probabilities). As expected, they found that older participants preferred the certain option compared to younger participants, and that this preference for the certain option increased with age. When they put these data into a model to determine which variable best predicted this change in preference, they found that it was primarily driven by the amount of grey matter in the brain region, rather than by age. These results suggest that changes in the brain that occur in healthy aging may be responsible for more of our decision-making patterns and preferences than previously thought. The findings have been reported in The Washington Post and other news publications.

The full paper can be read online here. The research was completed by Grubb as part of his postdoctoral work at New York University’s Center for Neural Science. Grubb received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from NYU. In his Trinity College lab, Grubb utilizes psychophysical and computational approaches to study human perception, from the visual system to the value domain, with a particular focus on attention and spatiotemporal context as critical mediating factors.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18