The brains of old people are slower, but wiser which help them achieve a level of performance equal to that of their young counterparts, according to a new study.
"The older brain has experience and knows that nothing is gained by jumping the gun. It was already known that aging is not necessarily associated with a significant loss in cognitive function. When it comes to certain tasks, the brains of older adults can achieve very close to the same performance as those of younger ones," said Dr. Oury Monchi and Dr. Ruben Martins of the University of Montreal.
"We now have neurobiological evidence showing that with age comes wisdom and that as the brain gets older, it learns to better allocate its resources. Overall, our study shows that Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare was on the money: being able to run fast does not always win the race-you have to know how to best use your abilities. This adage is a defining characteristic of aging."
For this test, participants were asked to pair words according to different lexical rules, including semantic category (animal, object, etc.), rhyme, or the beginning of the word (attack).
"Funny enough, the young brain is more reactive to negative reinforcement than the older one. When the young participants made a mistake and had to plan and execute a new strategy to get the right answer, various parts of their brains were recruited even before the next task began.
However, when the older participants learned that they had made a mistake, these regions were only recruited at the beginning of the next trial, indicating that with age, we decide to make adjustments only when absolutely necessary.
It is as though the older brain is more impervious to criticism and more confident than the young brain," stated Dr. Monchi.