Changes in the brain that occur with aging might also help to explain the study findings, said S. Duke Han, an assistant professor of neuropsychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Recent neuroimaging research has suggested that older adults use more of their frontal lobes on memory tasks than younger adults. The frontal lobes of the brain are generally thought to be key to abstract reasoning, problem solving, concept formation and multi-tasking, Han said.
"It could be that as older adults learn to use more of their frontal lobes to compensate for declines in other cognitive abilities, the greater use of the frontal lobes allows them to reason more fully about social conflicts," Han said.
To learn more about the aging brain, visit the University of Southern California.
SOURCES: Richard Nisbett, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Colin Milner, chief executive officer, International Council on Active Aging, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; S. Duke Han, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuropsychology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; April 5-9, 2010, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, online
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