Older people don't lose cognitive power they just know too much, say scientists
Researchers from Germany claim that brains function like hard drives - the more information we put in them, the longer it takes to recall it
Tuesday 21 January 2014
A new study of memory recall in older people suggests that our brains don’t lose cognitive power with age they just recall information more slowly, like a computer filled to bursting with data.
“The human brain works slower in old age but only because we have stored more information over time,” said Dr Michael Ramscar of Tübingen University in Germany and lead author of the study. “The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more.”
Dr Ramscar’s research focused on re-evaluating the standard measures for cognitive performances, methods that he and his team claim are flawed.
Using computers, the researchers modelled memory recall from different stages in an adult’s lifetime, finding that when the computers’ memory bank was smaller their performance resembled a young adult. When the computer was asked to recall information from a larger data set the performance looked more like that of an older adult.
"Imagine someone who knows two people's birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly,” said Dr Ramscar. “Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can 'only' match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?”
Calibrating their computer models to work with linguistic datasets, Ramscar’s team found that tests of memory recall do not take into account the difference in vocabulary sizes between older and younger people.
"Forget about forgetting," said fellow researcher Peter Hendrix, "if I wanted to get the computer to look like an older adult, I had to keep all the words it learned in memory and let them compete for attention."
Another test conducted by the team asked volunteers to remember pairs of un-related words such as ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker’, a task that young people perform better at than older individuals.
The team from Tübingen suggest that this is because older adults have a lifetime of knowing which words should come together, and are therefore less likely to remember the unrelated pairs.
"If you think linguistic skill involves something like being able to choose one word given another, younger adults seem to do better in this task. But, of course, proper understanding of language involves more than this,” said Professor Haraly Baayen of the Alexander von Humboldt Quantitative Linguistics research group where the work was undertaken.
“You have also to not put plausible but wrong pairs of words together. The fact that older adults find nonsense pairs - but not connected pairs - harder to learn than young adults simply demonstrates older adults' much better understanding of language.”
“They have to make more of an effort to learn unrelated word pairs because, unlike the youngsters, they know a lot about which words don't belong together."
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo shot dead at war memorial
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Isis releases first video showing the stoning of woman accused of committing adultery as her father shouts 'don't call me Dad'
This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
FCKH8's provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing reinstated by YouTube
Diwali: What is the festival of lights – and how is it celebrated around the world?
Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£7200 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: TEACHING ASSISTANTS NEEDED FOR PLYMOU...
£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...
£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...