Chateaubriand wrote: “Old age is a shipwreck, and old age is a wreck.” Researchers from prestigious universities Harvard, Columbia and Toronto are less forthcoming.
Admittedly, older people can have memory lapses or give the wrong answer to a question being asked. Aging, because it goes hand in hand with a head full of memories accumulated over a lifetime, will make it difficult to extract relevant information…but it will also allow older people to be more creative. Three psychology researchers are behind these claims.
Tarek Amer and Jordana S. Wayne (now at the University of Toronto) and Lyn Hasher article about the brain mechanisms of older adults in Trends in Cognitive Science in 2022. They reviewed several other papers in the behavioral sciences, also relying on brain imaging findings. their goal? Understand what is going on in the minds of older people.
Confirmation 1: Memory lapses or really few answers will be associated with a flood of information. “Older adults find it difficult to sort out relevant information from information that is unrelated to the question,” explains Tarek Amer, lead author of the article. How do we confirm that? The scientists are building on another study published in 2018 in the journal Aging, neuropsychology, and cognition.
Young and old people were placed in front of a screen where pictures were projected with text written on top. Instructions given to everyone? Focus on the image, not the text. The result: the young people remembered the relevant information, i.e. the picture, okay. The elders had preserved two pieces of information. “They have more difficulty concentrating than young people, so they have an excess of information,” concludes Tareq Amer.
When they then seek to extract target information from their brains, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And regularly, they come back with a bit of hay instead of the needle needed. The external environment, but also their memories can amplify the mass of data stored in their brains.
This hypothesis was confirmed by another study with different methodology but identical results. Again, placed in front of a monitor, but this time inside an MRI scanner, both age groups were presented with facial images and global scene images, and participants were asked to focus only on the faces. “We know that these two categories of images (face and scene) do not stimulate the same parts of the brain,” Tariq Amer decoded. In young adults, the brain is activated when images of a face appear on the screen, according to the instructions. In the elderly, both categories of pictures induced brain activity.
Therefore, until now, there is no reason to rejoice at the advent of old age. But Tariq Aamer made a nuance, which made the second major emphasis of their article. “We have evidence that older people can be more creative than younger people. We think there is a connection to their crowded memory, although this hypothesis has not yet been confirmed.
The large amounts of information, which the brain of the elderly reviews in a disordered way, will create new connections between thoughts. “So they are more likely to think of original solutions to a problem,” Tarek Amer continues. To test this psychology researchers Two groups of participants read a text, and then they were presented with an object (a hammer, for example). Then they asked to list possible uses for the tool. Older adults found more hammer functions than younger adults.
Text related posts have been read before. So this new information came to fuel the creativity of the older ones…just enough to stop opposing “full heads” to “well made heads”.