Dev Neuropsychol. 2008;33(2):179-96. doi: 10.1080/87565640701884287.
A developmental study of risky decisions on the cake gambling task: age and gender analyses of probability estimation and reward evaluation.
Van Leijenhorst L1, Westenberg PM, Crone EA.
1Institute for Psychological Research, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands. email@example.com
Decision making, or the process of choosing between competing courses of actions, is highly sensitive to age-related change, showing development throughout adolescence. In this study, we tested whether the development of decision making under risk is related to changes in risk-estimation abilities. Participants (N = 93) between ages 8-30 performed a child friendly gambling task, the Cake Gambling task, which was inspired by the Cambridge Gambling Task (Rogers et al., 1999), which has previously been shown to be sensitive to orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) damage. The task allowed comparisons of the contributions to risk perception of (1) the ability to estimate probabilities and (2) evaluate rewards. Adult performance patterns were highly similar to those found in previous reports, showing increased risk taking with increases in the probability of winning and the magnitude of potential reward. Behavioral patterns in children and adolescents did not differ from adult patterns, showing a similar ability for probability estimation and reward evaluation. These data suggest that participants 8 years and older perform like adults in a gambling task, previously shown to depend on the OFC in which all the information needed to make an advantageous decision is given on each trial and no information needs to be inferred from previous behavior. Interestingly, at all ages, females were more risk-averse than males. These results suggest that the increase in real-life risky behavior that is seen in adolescence is not a consequence of changes in risk perception abilities. The findings are discussed in relation to theories about the protracted development of the prefrontal cortex.