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Cognitive Aging and Tests of Rationality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2019

Sanghyuk Park
University of Missouri Columbia (USA)
Clintin P. Davis-Stober*
University of Missouri Columbia (USA)
Hope K. Snyder
University of Missouri Columbia (USA)
William Messner
The Lubrizol Corporation (USA)
Michel Regenwetter*
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA)
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Clintin Davis-Stober. University of Missouri Columbia. Department of Psychological Sciences. 65211 Columbia Missouri (USA). E-mail: (


We investigated whether older adults are more likely than younger adults to violate a foundational property of rational decision making, the axiom of transitive preference. Our experiment consisted of two groups, older (ages 60-75; 21 participants) and younger (ages 18-30; 20 participants) adults. We used Bayesian model selection to investigate whether individuals were better described via (transitive) weak order-based decision strategies or (possibly intransitive) lexicographic semiorder decision strategies. We found weak evidence for the hypothesis that older adults violate transitivity at a higher rate than younger adults. At the same time, a hierarchical Bayesian analysis suggests that, in this study, the distribution of decision strategies across individuals is similar for both older and younger adults.

Research Article
Copyright © Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos de Madrid 2019 

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This paper grew out of an invited talk given at the VII Advanced International Seminar Mathematical Models of Decision Making Processes: State of the Art and Challenges held at the School of Psychology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain) in October 2018 ( This paper was supported by: Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant FA9550-05-1-0356 (PI: M. Regenwetter); Pilot Grant Program of the University of Illinois Center for Healthy Minds # PHS 1 P30 AG023101 (funded by the National Institutes of Aging); National Science Foundation (NSF) SES # 08-20009 (PI: M. Regenwetter), SES # 10-62045 (PI: M. Regenwetter), SES # 14-59699 (PI: M. Regenwetter) and SES # 14-59866 (PI: Clintin P. Davis-Stober); National Institutes of Health (K25AA024182, PI: C. Davis-Stober). This project was approved by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institutional Review Board, project number 07762. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their funding agencies or universities.

How to cite this article:

Park, S., Davis-Stober, C. P., Synder, H., Messner, W., & Regenwetter, M. (2019). Cognitive aging and tests of rationality. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 22. e57. Doi:10.1017/sjp.2019.52


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