Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1208–1220 | Cite as

State-based versus reward-based motivation in younger and older adults

  • Darrell A. Worthy
  • Jessica A. Cooper
  • Kaileigh A. Byrne
  • Marissa A. Gorlick
  • W. Todd Maddox


Recent decision-making work has focused on a distinction between a habitual, model-free neural system that is motivated toward actions that lead directly to reward and a more computationally demanding goal-directed, model-based system that is motivated toward actions that improve one’s future state. In this article, we examine how aging affects motivation toward reward-based versus state-based decision making. Participants performed tasks in which one type of option provided larger immediate rewards but the alternative type of option led to larger rewards on future trials, or improvements in state. We predicted that older adults would show a reduced preference for choices that led to improvements in state and a greater preference for choices that maximized immediate reward. We also predicted that fits from a hybrid reinforcement-learning model would indicate greater model-based strategy use in younger than in older adults. In line with these predictions, older adults selected the options that maximized reward more often than did younger adults in three of the four tasks, and modeling results suggested reduced model-based strategy use. In the task where older adults showed similar behavior to younger adults, our model-fitting results suggested that this was due to the utilization of a win-stay–lose-shift heuristic rather than a more complex model-based strategy. Additionally, within older adults, we found that model-based strategy use was positively correlated with memory measures from our neuropsychological test battery. We suggest that this shift from state-based to reward-based motivation may be due to age related declines in the neural structures needed for more computationally demanding model-based decision making.


Aging Computational modeling Decision-making Motivation Reward 



This research was funded by NIA grant AG043425 to D.A.W. and W.T.M. and NIDA grant DA032457 to W.T.M. We thank Anna Anthony for help with data collection. Correspondence should be addressed to W. Todd Maddox ( or Darrell A. Worthy (


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Darrell A. Worthy
    • 1
  • Jessica A. Cooper
    • 2
  • Kaileigh A. Byrne
    • 1
  • Marissa A. Gorlick
    • 2
  • W. Todd Maddox
    • 2
  1. 1.College StationTexas A&M UniversityAustinUSA
  2. 2.University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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