In this task, individuals attempt to earn points by playing or passing cards from 4 different decks. Two of the decks are associated with relatively small gains, but the small gains exceed losses over the course of the task, resulting in a net gain. The other two decks produce larger gains than the first two decks, but in the long run, these decks produce a net loss due to larger losses. In addition, within each type of deck (net gain vs. net loss), there is one deck in which the loss is infrequent but large, and the other deck produces losses that are consistent and small. The ability to choose to pass on bad decks and play on good decks is a measure of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and risk evaluation. The preference to play the decks with more variance in the outcome is taken as a measure of risk preference. This task is especially appealing because it assesses decision-making relatively free of prior experience. One reason that adolescents and adults might differ in their decision-making abilities is that adults just have more practice with decision-making with the analytic, overt reasoning processes, or with decisions within a specific domain. Rather than assessing overt controlled decision-making, however, this task appears to tap implicit aspects of decision making. As such, any differences that may be observed between adults and adolescents cannot be attributed to differential expertise on the part of the adults, as neither group has previous experience with this task.
Bechara, A., Damasio, A.R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S.W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50, 7–15.
Cauffman, E., Shulman, E., Steinberg, L., Claus, E., Banich, M., Graham, S., & Woolard, J.L. “Age differences in affective decision making as indexed by performance on the Iowa Gambling Task.” Developmental Psychology 46 (2010): 193-207.