From: EurekAlert
Published January 22, 2014 08:51 AM

New theory on mental processing as we age

What happens to our cognitive abilities as we age? Traditionally it is thought that age leads to a steady deterioration of brain function, but new research in Topics in Cognitive Science argues that older brains may take longer to process ever increasing amounts of knowledge, and this has often been misidentified as declining capacity.

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The study, led by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tuebingen, takes a critical look at the measures that are usually thought to show that our cognitive abilities decline across adulthood. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the team discovered that most standard cognitive measures are flawed, confusing increased knowledge for declining capacity.

Dr. Ramscar's team used computers, programmed to act as though they were humans, to read a certain amount each day, learning new things along the way. When the researchers let a computer 'read' a limited amount, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.

However, if the same computer was exposed data which represented a lifetime of experiences its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because its processing capacity had declined, but because increased "experience" had caused the computer's database to grow, giving it more data to process, and that processing takes time.

Young man with headache image via Shutterstock.

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