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It's Not Memory Loss - Older Minds May Just Be Fuller of Information 206

Posted by samzenpus
from the filled-to-the-briim dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Benedict Carey writes in the NYT that the idea that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology. But a new paper suggests that older adults' performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. 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. When the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging 'deficits' largely disappeared. That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair). 'What shocked me, to be honest, is that for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults,' says lead author Michael Ramscar but the simulations 'fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn't need to invoke decline at all.' The new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is. Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between 'fluid' and 'crystallized' intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise. 'In essence, what Ramscar's group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,' says Zach Hambrick, In the meantime the new digital-era challenge to 'cognitive decline' can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise (PDF). 'It's not that you're slow,' says Carey. 'It's that you know so much.'"
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It's Not Memory Loss - Older Minds May Just Be Fuller of Information

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  • by icebike (68054) on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:00AM (#46117595)

    Don't worry, it will come to you tomorrow morning.
    I've been known to blurt out answers to three day old questions, and have my geezer friends nod in agreement as if no time had passed.
    Its hard to dig up a single nugget from under under that pile of tailings I've accumulated over the years.

  • Re:Flawed model (Score:5, Insightful)

    by q.kontinuum (676242) on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:26AM (#46117703)
    They are speaking about healthy aged people, which probably excludes most physical damages or degenerating diseases. And no, intelligence can not be measured in a reasonable way. Practicing typical IQ test tasks will increase your achievements there while this "brain-jogging" does not improve your capabilities to solve differently structured problems.

    I accept there is a correlation between test results and perceived IQ, but since the very definition of intelligence is already controversial ( and tests are probably applied most of the time to measure younger people (career planning etc.), and also the time spent on a single test is very limited, it seems quite conceivable to me that some people might be good at solving more complex real live (common sense: display higher intelligence) while they suck at short tasks. From personal experience (older colleagues) I'd say there is a bias towards this type of people in older people.

  • by eyepeepackets (33477) on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:55AM (#46117791)

    As an old English/Philosophy major who really loves Victorian-era literature, I reflect your resentment. What you choose to do with this reflected image is yet another reflection. I had to have science credits, took Biology classes and have benefitted both directly and indirectly ever since. Perhaps it's an attitudinal thing?

  • by JakartaDean (834076) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:19AM (#46118059) Journal

    For requiring me to take a course on Victorian-era English literature as part of my engineering degree graduation requirements? By forcing me to take the course, they literally filled my brain up with useless stuff which will accelerate the onset of age-related dementia.

    As an engineering graduate of 1986, I joined a group of classmates a couple of years ago on a visit to the Dean, who asked us what we would change, looking back, in the curriculum. There were two answers common to all of us: project management and English writing. We are all in management now, not practical engineering, and need words more than we need numbers and formulae. An English writing course should be required for all pure and applied science majors, in my opinion.

    And I think you should have paid more attention in your one class: literally doesn't mean what you think it does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:31AM (#46118097)

    As an old English/Philosophy major who really loves Victorian-era literature, I reflect your resentment. What you choose to do with this reflected image is yet another reflection. I had to have science credits, took Biology classes and have benefitted both directly and indirectly ever since. Perhaps it's an attitudinal thing?

    No, it's obvious that taking science classes is beneficial to everyone. It's just the Victorian-era literature that's useless for most things.

  • by Nephandus (2953269) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:09AM (#46118193)
    Then why come the idiots I dealt with in childhood are even dumber than I thought? They never improved with age. You can't fix stupid. You can enshrine it with culture arbitrarily privileging norms and elders though. So many argument on the net result in some elder wanting to know age and trying to pull rank or performing the equivalent of quoting regs. The latter gets a bit less irritating and more amusing when the norms change and their attempt blows up in their face. Just have to hope they don't get that damn antiquated bigot pass.
  • Re:Holmes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Friday January 31, 2014 @10:07AM (#46119259) Homepage

    It's not about the storage, it's all about the index lookup speeds.

  • by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <> on Friday January 31, 2014 @10:49AM (#46119595) Homepage Journal

    The problem with worshiping Science as a religion is that we spent several thousand years learning core technologies like, oh, handling fire, talking and writing, building boats that could sail thousands of miles. All of it before there was science.

    It is quite clear to anyone with an unfettered mind that there is an awful lot that can be learned that does not fit the scientific paradigm. Try using the whole of your brain, and not just that fraction that handles "scientific" abstractions.

  • by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <> on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:00AM (#46119667) Homepage Journal

    I learned some time ago to not bother with learning anything I can look up when I need it. So now I'm dependent on a bunch of brain prosthetics: shopping lists, todo lists, calendars with notes. The biggest one of all being Google.

    Now I'm more concerned with remembering how to rediscover that nugget I once knew than in trying to remember the nugget itself. If I can't get to Google, I sometimes look slow and dense in conversations with kids less than 40 years old. But so long as I've got one of my Android gadgets in reach (and charged up), I'm one of the brighter bulbs in the tool shed.

    Uh, wait a minute,.. what did I just say...

  • by swillden (191260) <> on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:14PM (#46120533) Homepage Journal

    I don't worship science as a religion. I reserve worship for God. I do look to science as the best method we've devised to obtain solid, useful explanations of observable phenomena. While we certainly did develop and use many technologies prior to discovering the scientific method of inquiry, contrast the effectiveness and pace of progress before and after the enlightenment to see that science makes our knowledge dramatically more effective and impactful.

    As for using the whole of my brain, not just the "scientific" part, that statement doesn't even make any sense. The whole of my brain encompasses all sorts of functions, most of which contribute to scientific reasoning -- including, in particular, all of the so-called "creative" elements, since creativity is a core part of the scientific method; some of which have no relevance to or even detract from scientific reasoning but enrich personal experience; and some of which are purely involved with survival processes. It's impossible not to use one's whole brain.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." -- Alexander Graham Bell