Main staff includes:
This research cluster focuses on investigating how people respond emotionally to the experience of downturns and recoveries, and how these emotions can promote or impair decision making. Sound decision making does not always arise from rational deliberation—as demonstrated by the poor decisions made by patients with neurologically impaired emotion processing. Whether emotional reactions or cold rationality yield the best decisions depends in part on whether the emotion is intrinsic to the task at hand or whether it arises from extrinsic factors such as the feelings of discouragement and fear that might be experienced during economic downturns. At a societal level, downturns and recoveries may place certain groups at particular risk for poor decision making, given the high levels of stress, fear, and depression experienced by people who are elderly, low in socio-economic status, and of minority ethnic groups. At the level of individual decision making, people who are experiencing stress may seek out less information prior to making a decision and rely more on gut-level emotions. At a neural level, the somatic emotional markers in specific brain substrates may be heightened during decision-making. To understand how these three levels of analysis are intertwined, consider how people make decisions given financial scams and fraudulent advertising. The FBI estimates 14,000 fraudulent telemarketing firms in the U.S., with 80% directing their activities toward older adults. And 85% of victims were 65 years or older. The elderly are targeted due to their disposable income, isolation, free time, and limited social support. Additionally important are declines in cognitive decision-making ability and a lack of awareness of these deficits that fails to produce appropriate defensiveness and caution. Also relevant are age-related changes in areas of the prefrontal lobes, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that impair aspects of decision making.