Older Folks, College Kids Make Decisions Just as Quickly: Study

TUESDAY, Jan. 3 (HealthDay News) — Good news for seniors: Your
decision-making skills may be as quick and sharp as college students,
researchers report.

Their accumulated data suggests that older people who remain mentally
healthy are potentially as capable as younger people when it comes to
thinking fast without making mistakes.

Ratcliff and his colleagues report their findings in the current online
issue of Child Development.

“Many people think that it is just natural for older people’s brains to
slow down as they age, but we’re finding that isn’t always true,” study
co-author Roger Ratcliff, a professor of psychology at Ohio State
University, said in a journal news release. “At least in some situations,
70-year-olds may have response times similar to those of 25-year

The researchers analyzed the results of word accuracy and symbol-based
cognitive (thinking) testing among very young children (as young as the
second grade). They found that response time in decision-making starts out
more slowly and less accurately in children compared with adults, but
goes on to improve by the time people reach college age.

“Younger children are not able to make as good of use of the
information they are presented, so they are less accurate,” Ratcliff
explained. “That improves as they mature.”

Ratcliff’s group also pointed to prior research involving the same type
of cognitive testing conducted among three age groups: college-aged
students, adults aged 60 to 74, and adults aged 75 to 90.

In that instance, the results suggested that while accuracy was
comparable across age groups, college students tended to respond more
quickly than seniors.

But, when the seniors were actively prodded to respond more quickly,
they proved capable of doing so — just as speedily as those in their

While noting that some aspects of mental processing do suffer with age
(such as “associative memory”), the team concluded that getting old does
not necessarily mean losing one’s ability to think fast and well.

“The older view was that all cognitive processes decline at the same
rate as people age,” Ratcliff said. “We’re finding that there isn’t such a
uniform decline. There are some things that older people do nearly as well
as young people.”

More information

There’s more on how the brain changes with age at the University of Southern California.

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