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An investigation of risky decision-making: The role of temperament, development, early adversity, and ADHD


Exploration is a process that inherently brings both risk of negative outcomes and opportunities for success. With either outcome, that exploration, or risk-taking, results in feedback and the potential for learning. Measuring risk-taking, and the ability to learn from risk-taking, has clear relevance. Previous laboratory-based assessments of risk-taking and learning have been limited. Although tasks included implicit rules that could be deduced from experience to guide subsequent decision-making, participants have had limited ability to explore the task environment. The purpose of this investigation was to examine risky decision-making on a novel task, the Balloon Emotional Learning Task (BELT), in four studies. The first provided initial validation of the BELT and examined the association of personality/temperament factors in relation to risk-taking and learning. The second study examined age-related changes in risky decision-making in individuals ranging from 3-26 years of age. The third study examined the association of maternal deprivation, age, and sex with risk-taking and the functional outcome of risk-taking. The fourth study examined the association of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on risky decision-making and learning on the BELT measured from a two-year prospective longitudinal study. Across all samples, individual differences in learning from risk-taking were observed, and they were significantly associated with personality traits, age, early adversity, and ADHD. The results have implications for empirical investigations of risk-taking and its functional outcome, and how decision-making can be influenced by feedback. The findings also highlight the importance of considering sensitivity to negative feedback and learning from experience in the successful decision-making in the context of risk.

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