Cognitive Aging and the Adaptive Use of Recognition in Decision Making

Thorsten Pachur, Rui Mata, Lael J. Schooler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


The recognition heuristic, which predicts that a recognized object scores higher on some criterion than an unrecognized one, is a simple inference strategy and thus an attractive mental tool for making inferences with limited cognitive resources-for instance, in old age. In spite of its simplicity, the recognition heuristic might be negatively affected in old age by too much knowledge, inaccurate memory, or deficits in its adaptive use. Across 2 studies, we investigated the impact of cognitive aging on the applicability, accuracy, and adaptive use of the recognition heuristic. Our results show that (a) young and old adults' recognition knowledge was an equally useful cue for making inferences about the world; (b) as with young adults, old adults adjusted their use of the recognition heuristic between environments with high and low recognition validities; and (c) old adults, however, showed constraints in their ability to adaptively suspend the recognition heuristic on specific items. Measures of fluid intelligence mediated these age-related constraints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)901-915
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptive
  • aging
  • decision making
  • memory
  • recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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