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Young vs. old: Who performs more consistently?
Date:8/5/2013

Sometimes it's just not your day: First you can't remember where you put your car keys, then you forget about an important meeting at work. On days like that, our memory seems to let us down. But are there actually "good" and "bad" days for cognitive performance? And does age make a difference in the day-to-day variability in cognitive performance?

Florian Schmiedek, Martin Lvdn, and Ulman Lindenberger examined these questions using data from the COGITO Study, an investigation conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Their results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The new findings reveal that while variability in cognitive performance does indeed exist, our personal impression that a whole day is either good or bad is often wrong. Rather, most performance fluctuations occur within shorter periods of time.

"True variability from day to day is relatively low," says Schmiedek.

The data suggest that both day-to-day and within-day variability in cognitive performance are particularly low in older adults when compared to younger adults.

Testing over 200 younger (ages 20-31) and older (ages 65-80) adults on twelve different tasks revealed significant age differences. These tasks testing perceptual speed, episodic memory, and working memory were repeated across 100 days, enabling researchers to assess the participants' learning improvements as well as their day-to-day performance fluctuations.

In all nine cognitive tasks assessed, the older group actually showed less performance variability from day to day than the younger group. The older adults' cognitive performance was thus more consistent across days, and this picture remained unaltered when differences in average performance favoring the young were taken into account.

"Further analyses indicate that the older adults' higher consistency is due to learne
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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