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Youth adapt faster than seniors to unexpected events
Date:1/18/2011

This release is available in French.

Montreal, January 18, 2011 Does experience give seniors an edge in reacting to sudden change or are younger people quicker to respond? A new study from Concordia University shows that when a routine task is interrupted by an unexpected event, younger adults are faster at responding. Published in the Journal of Gerontology, the findings have implications for educators and for older adults in situations where performance is crucial.

"When we frequently perform a task, our reactions become automatic," says Kevin Trewartha, first author and a PhD student in Concordia's Department of Psychology and a researcher at the Centre for Research in Human Development. "For example, experienced drivers are often 'on autopilot' when they're behind the wheel, but they do just fine, unless something unexpected happens. We're interested in reaction speeds in different age groups when something unexpected does occur while someone is performing a routine task."

Some 40 participants took part in the study: half were 19 to 36 years old, while the other half were 60 to 75 years old. Each participant was asked to follow visual cues on a computer screen and press corresponding keys on a piano keyboard. Some sequences were repeated frequently so that participants learned to expect them, while other sequences were randomly added at intervals to create unexpected sequences.

Reaction in older adults

"Older adults were less able to overcome their habitual responses when unexpected sequences arose," says Trewartha. "They were also slower in learning to adapt. They didn't improve as much as younger adults when they were asked to vary their learned routine on multiple occasions."

The study is one of the first to use 3D motion capture technology, the same tool used in film and animation, to link age-related
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Contact: Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
s-j.desjardins@concordia.ca
514-848-2424 x5068
Concordia University
Source:Eurekalert

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