Newspaper article

Is It All Downhill (Cognitively Speaking) after Age 24?

Newspaper article

Is It All Downhill (Cognitively Speaking) after Age 24?

Article excerpt

Thought you had until at least age 50 to worry about your brain slowing down?

Well, think again (and quickly, if you can). For according to a new Canadian study, our cognitive motor skills -- the ability of our brain to process and then react to new information -- peaks at age 24.

After then, it's apparently all downhill.

"Among the general public, people tend to think of middle age as being roughly 45 years of age, after which there are obvious age- related declines in cognitive-motor functioning," write the authors of the study. "Once 'over the hill,' experience and wisdom, the consolation prizes of age, are hoped to be sufficient to either attenuate this decline or at least compensate for it indirectly. Aging research has shown that this general conception is incorrect. There is much evidence that memory and speed on a variety of cognitive tasks may peak much earlier."

Oh, dear.

'A ruthless war game'

For the study, which was published online this week in the journal PLoS One, researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver analyzed thousands of hours of stored data from the performance records of 3,305 StarCraft2 players, aged 16 to 44. The game is described in an accompanying press release as "a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money."

StarCraft2 "brings several important advantages to the study of aging," according to the study's authors. It's played in real time, for example, a factor that requires players to act and make decisions quickly. It's also played by people of various ages and skill levels -- and for sustained periods of time.

Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers figured out how long all the players took to react to the moves of their opponents. (This is one of the first scientific studies to use such "big data.") They then compared the performances at different ages.

A matter of milliseconds

The analysis revealed, as the press release notes, "an earlier- than-expected slippery slope into old age. …

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