Dread sensitivity in decisions about real and imagined electrical shocks does not vary by age

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Previous research has found age differences in intertemporal choices that involve trade-offs among events or outcomes that occur at different points in time, but these findings were mostly limited to hypothetical financial and consumer choices. We examined whether age effects extend to unpleasant physical experiences that elicit states of dread which lead participants to speed up the outcomes just to get them over with. We asked participants of different ages to choose among electrical shocks that varied in timing and intensity. We also assessed affective responses as a potential mechanism behind age effects and considered other potential covariates. In Study 1, the choice task involved real outcomes and the sample consisted of younger and older adults. In Study 2, the choice task was hypothetical and the sample was an adult life span sample. Across both studies, there was no evidence of age differences in the preferred timing of shocks. Instead, dread-sensitive choices were associated with higher conscientiousness. Age effects in dread-sensitive choices remained nonsignificant even after controlling for a range of age-associated covariates. We discuss possible explanations for the lack of age effects and consider implications for applied and clinical settings.

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Psychology and Aging

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