Scaffolding Across the Lifespan in History-Dependent Decision-Making Academic Article uri icon


  • We examined the relationship between pressure and age-related changes in decision-making using a task for which currently available rewards depend on the participant's previous history of choices. Optimal responding in this task requires the participant to learn how his or her current choices affect changes in the future rewards given for each option. Building on the scaffolding theory of aging and cognition, we predicted that when additional frontal resources are available, compensatory recruitment leads to increased monitoring and increased use of heuristic-based strategies, ultimately leading to better performance. Specifically, we predicted that scaffolding would result in an age-related performance advantage under no pressure conditions. We also predicted that, although younger adults would engage in scaffolding under pressure, older adults would not have additional resources available for increased scaffolding under pressure-packed conditions, leading to an age-related performance deficit. Both predictions were supported by the data. In addition, computational models were used to evaluate decision-making strategies employed by each participant group. As expected, older adults under no pressure conditions and younger adults under pressure conditions showed increased use of heuristic-based strategies relative to older adults under pressure and younger adults under no pressure, respectively. These results are consistent with the notion that scaffolding can occur across the life span in the face of an environmental challenge.

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Cooper, J. A., Worthy, D. A., Gorlick, M. A., & Maddox, W. T.

citation count

  • 11

publication date

  • June 2013