Thursday, January 30, 2014

Well this makes me feel better!

Some very interesting research has recently called into question the assumption that the reason mental activity slows and worsens with age is due to physical decline.  The findings of a recent study by a group of cognitive scientists in Germany tentatively suggest that the reason older folk have slower memories, for example, may be due to the fact that they have more knowledge in their memories in the first place.  From an article at the NYTimes:
Now comes a new kind of challenge to the evidence of a cognitive decline, from a decidedly digital quarter: data mining, based on theories of information processing. In a paper published in Topics in Cognitive Science, a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases.

Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared.
The article covers quite a bit of ground in related areas and is definitely worth a read, particularly if you're not in your early 20s![ht:]