Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology and Behavioral Sciences

First Advisor

Walter Buboltz


Adults make many risky decisions daily, such as choosing to drive over the speed limit or going outside without previously applying sunscreen. How and why adults make such decisions remains relatively unknown and has gained much research attention. Traditional models of decision-making, such as Expected Utility Theory (Bernoulli, 1954) and Prospect Theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1972) have proven too simplistic, as they do not account for the regular deviations from expected decision-making processes. Likewise, models that attempt to categorize individuals as risk seeking and risk-averse do not hold up well when decisional-domain is examined (Blais & Weber, 2006). Contemporary research has cited many individual factors that influence or interfere with decision-making processes, such as age, cognitive abilities, and impulsivity, to name a few. What is missing, however, is a comprehensive model that examines domain specific risky decision-making processes that are employed across the adult lifespan.

This study examined the moderating effects of the Domain Specific Risk Taking Scale (DOSPERT; Weber, Blais, & Betz, 2002) subscales (perceived risk, attitudes toward risk, and expected benefits of risky behavior) and impulsivity on the established relationships among cognitive abilities (general intelligence and numeric ability) and risky financial and health related decisions. Participants included younger adults, sampled from undergraduate level courses and older adults (55+ years), sampled from adult fitness programs. The participants completed a survey packet that included demographic questions, measures of cognitive abilities, trait impulsivity, the DOSPERT (Weber et al., 2002), and several hypothetical financial and health-related risky decisions. Possible moderator effects were examined using hierarchical linear regression.

Males made more risky health and financial decisions than females. Similarly, younger adults made more domain-specific risky decisions (health and finance) than older adults. There were age and gender differences on all aspects of risk propensity (risk perception, risk taking, and expected benefits). Measures of risk propensity (risk perception, risk taking, and expected benefits of risk) and trait impulsivity did not moderate the relationship between cognitive abilities and domain-specific risky decisions. Practical and clinical implications are discussed. Additionally, limitations and directions for future research are reviewed.