Functional neuroimaging of the iowa gambling task in older adults

Kameko Halfmann, William Hedgcock, Antoine Bechara, Natalie L. Denburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objective: The neural systems most susceptible to age-related decline mirror the systems linked to decision making. Yet, the neural processes underlying decision-making disparities among older adults are not well understood. We sought to identify neural response patterns that distinguish 2 groups of older adults who exhibit divergent decision-making patterns. Method: Participants were 31 healthy older adults (ages 59-88, 53% female), defined as advantageous or disadvantageous decision-makers based on Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) performance, who completed an alternate version of the IGT while undergoing functional MRI. The groups were indistinguishable on neuropsychological testing. We contrasted the BOLD signal between groups during 3 phases of the decision-making process: Prechoice (preselection), Prefeedback (postselection), and Feedback (receipt of gains/losses). We further examined whether BOLD signal varied as a function of age in each group. Results: We observed greater activation among the IGT-Disadvantageous relative to -Advantageous older adults in the prefrontal cortex during the early phases of the decision-making process (Prechoice), and in posterior brain regions (e.g., the precuneus) during the later phases (Prefeedback and Feedback). We also found that with increasing age, IGTAdvantageous older adults showed increasing activation in the prefrontal cortex during all phases and increasing activation in the posterior cingulate during earlier phases of the decision process. By contrast, the IGT-Disadvantageous older adults exhibited a reduced or reversed trend. Conclusions: These functional differences may be a consequence of altered reward processing or differing compensatory strategies between IGT-Disadvantageous and -Advantageous older adults. This supports the notion that divergent neurobiological aging trajectories underlie disparate decision-making patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)870-880
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Psychological Association.


  • Aging
  • Decision making
  • Iowa gambling task
  • Reward
  • Ventromedial prefrontal cortex


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