Do Age Differences in Associative Learning and Stimulus Generalization Lead to Age Differences in Trust?

  • Kendra Seaman (DUKE CENTER ON AGING)
  • Jessica Cooper (EMORY PSYCHOLOGY)

OSF and Preregistration Form | Funded by SRNDNA

When meeting others, people make quick decisions on whether to trust people or not that affect decision-making and that pose serious consequences for physical, interpersonal, and financial well-being. The extent to which people trust others, however, is not stable across the lifespan. Rather, older adults exhibit excessive trust relative to younger adults. This excessive trust leaves older adults particularly such serious consequences, including financial fraud. Why older adults exhibit excessive trust, however, is poorly understood. One explanation for their excessive trust is that older adults may learn to trust differently than do younger adults. Critically, recent work has identified stimulus generalization, by which learned value spreads between perceptually similar stimuli, as a potential mechanism for learning to trust. Here, people place more trust in people who look like someone whose past behaviors reflect trustworthiness, and place less trust in people who look like someone whose behaviors reflected untrustworthiness. This spread of social value is reflected in brain activity. Caudate and amygdala activity track, respectively, the generalization of positive (trustworthy) and negative (untrustworthy) social value, and affect trust decisions toward unfamiliar others. Because social value needs to be learned and because prior work suggests that older adults learn negative cues less than do younger adults, less spread of negative social value to unfamiliar others may represent one route by which older adults exhibit excessive trust. If older adults have less negative value representations of untrustworthy people based on their experiences with them than do younger adults, older adults should also transfer less negative social value to unfamiliar others who are resemble a past untrustworthy person and exhibit more trust in these unfamiliar others than younger adults. The study adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine this possibility at both the behavioral and neural levels.

Using Neuroscience to Optimize Digital Health Interventions across Adulthood

  • Jaime Castrellon, Duke Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Mikella Green, Duke Psychology & Neuroscience
  • Gregory Samanez-Larkin, Ph.D., Duke Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Gary Bennett, Ph.D., Duke Global Digital Health Science Center
  • Candace Brown, Ph.D., Duke Center for Study of Aging
  • Eric Juarez, Duke Psychology and Neuroscience-PHD
  • Kendra Seaman, Ph.D., Duke Center for Study of Aging
  • Emily Falk, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

OSF page | Funded by Duke Bass Connections

While clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of health interventions for enhancing cognition and well-being in older age, a persistent challenge is how best to motivate aging adults to engage in beneficial health behaviors in their daily lives. People know that being more physically active and eating better is good for them, but they still don’t do it. Recent neuroscientific and psychological research shows that motivation changes with age. Older adults are more motivated by social rewards and pay more attention to and better remember positively-framed messages. Thus, positively-framed social rewards may provide critical incentives for aging adults to be more physically active and eat healthier food.

The goal of this project is to combine approaches from neuroscience, psychology and global health to identify ways to individually motivate adults to become more physically active and make healthier food choices in daily life. Leveraging collaborations across and outside of the university, the team will test the hypothesis that positively-framed social rewards will motivate aging adults’ to more frequently engage in beneficial health behaviors in daily life.

In a community sample of healthy adults (ages 30-80), the project will use human brain imaging (fMRI) to assess the sensitivity of motivational brain systems (e.g., striatum and medial prefrontal cortex) to socioemotionally-framed health messages. After neuroimaging, participants will have their activity and eating habits continuously monitored for three months while receiving physical activity and eating-related messages on their mobile phones in the form of programmed voice-over IP and/or text messages (developed in partnership with the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center). The team will use the neural measures as predictors of the effectiveness of specific messages delivered via mobile phone to increase activity in daily life.

We predict that socially framed positive messages will produce higher levels of neural activity in motivational brain networks and will be most effective at increasing physical activity and healthier food choices in middle-aged and older adults. We also expect the sensitivity of motivational brain systems to specific message types will predict the effectiveness of that message in everyday life. If this is the case, future studies will attempt to develop more personalized combinations of health promotion messages to individual adults.