Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2023

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Rebecca K. MacAulay

Second Committee Member

Fayeza Ahmed

Third Committee Member

Emily A.P. Haigh

Additional Committee Members

Mollie Ruben

Rebecca A. Schwartz-Mette


Decision-making is widely viewed as a higher-order cognitive construct, drawing on fluid intelligence as well as intact functioning across a wide variety of cognitive domains including executive function, working memory, declarative memory, and attention. The conditions of the decision-making outcome (e.g., immediate or delayed), the framing of the outcome (e.g., loss vs. gain), and the type of outcome (e.g., money, food, social or health consequences), are consistently highlighted throughout the literature as being important influences on decision-making behavior. However, decision-making behavior among and within these contexts remains inconsistent and inconclusive in older adult populations. Considering that recent evidence suggests the emergence of decision-making decrements may serve as an effective tool for predicting future cognitive decline, or as an indication of existing impairments within subserving cognitive domains, it remains an important endeavor to understand how, and why decision-making abilities may change in older adults. This picture may be elucidated by further understanding of the underlying affective and cognitive factors that have been implicated in shaping decision-making ability across the lifespan. This study therefore aimed to understand whether community-dwelling older adults behave differently within an intertemporal paradigm when outcomes are framed as gains or losses and whether environmental factors such as degree of loneliness influenced decision-making. Additionally, the study introduced a novel reward system to examine whether decision-making behavior in older adults differs for monetary outcomes as compared to non-monetary outcomes. Given the unclear nature of how contextual factors are associated with decision-making, the current study also attempted to understand how state affect and executive control impact temporal discounting rates when choices are framed as gains or losses. Finally, the current study explored whether temporal discounting rates were associated with consequential real-life decision-making behavior.