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Elderly can be as fast as young in some brain tasks, study shows
Date:12/27/2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio Both children and the elderly have slower response times when they have to make quick decisions in some settings.

But recent research suggests that much of that slower response is a conscious choice to emphasize accuracy over speed.

In fact, healthy older people can be trained to respond faster in some decision-making tasks without hurting their accuracy meaning their cognitive skills in this area aren't so different from younger adults.

"Many people think that it is just natural for older people's brains to slow down as they age, but we're finding that isn't always true," said Roger Ratcliff, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of the studies.

"At least in some situations, 70-year-olds may have response times similar to those of 25-year olds."

Ratcliff and his colleagues have been studying cognitive processes and aging in their lab for about a decade. In a new study published online this month in the journal Child Development, they extended their work to children.

Ratcliff said their results in children are what most scientists would have expected: very young children have slower response times and poorer accuracy compared to adults, and these improve as the children mature.

But the more interesting finding is that older adults don't necessarily have slower brain processing than younger people, said Gail McKoon, professor of psychology at Ohio State and co-author of the studies.

"Older people don't want to make any errors at all, and that causes them to slow down. We found that it is difficult to get them out of the habit, but they can with practice," McKoon said.

Researchers uncovered this surprising finding by using a model developed by Ratcliff that considers both the reaction time and the accuracy shown by participants in speeded tasks. Most models only consider one of these variables.

"If you look at aging research
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Contact: Roger Ratcliff
Ratcliff.22@osu.edu
614-292-7916
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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