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Can trained older brains outperform untrained younger ones at demanding cognitive tasks? Quick answer: YES


Online brain games can extend in-game ‘cog­ni­tive youth’ into old age (Sci­ence News):

A Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine-led study has found that online brain game exer­cis­es can enable peo­ple in their 70s and even 80s to mul­ti­task cog­ni­tive­ly as well as indi­vid­u­als 50 years their junior. This is an increas­ing­ly valu­able skill, giv­en today’s dai­ly infor­ma­tion onslaught, which can divide atten­tion and be par­tic­u­lar­ly tax­ing for old­er adults

The find­ings, pub­lished in Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, under­score the cog­ni­tive cost of mul­ti­task­ing, which dilutes func­tion by split­ting focus, as well as the ways in which peo­ple across the lifes­pan can over­come the brain drain brought on by both the increas­ing­ly clut­tered mul­ti­me­dia envi­ron­ment and the nat­ur­al aging process.

For the study, Steyvers and his col­leagues part­nered with Lumos­i­ty, an online plat­form that offers a vari­ety of dai­ly brain train­ing games … Of the mil­lions of peo­ple who played the game between 2012 and 2017, researchers ran­dom­ly sam­pled the per­for­mance of about 1,000 users with­in two cat­e­gories: those who ranged in age from 21 to 80 and had com­plet­ed few­er than 60 train­ing ses­sions; and adults 71 to 80 who had logged at least 1,000 ses­sions.

They found that the major­i­ty of old­er and high­ly prac­ticed play­ers were able to match or exceed the per­for­mance of younger users who had not played very much.”

The Study:

A large-scale analy­sis of task switch­ing prac­tice effects across the lifes­pan (Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences)

  • Abstract: An impor­tant fea­ture of human cog­ni­tion is the abil­i­ty to flex­i­bly and effi­cient­ly adapt behav­ior in response to con­tin­u­ous­ly chang­ing con­tex­tu­al demands. We lever­age a large-scale dataset from Lumos­i­ty, an online cog­ni­tive-train­ing plat­form, to inves­ti­gate how cog­ni­tive process­es involved in cued switch­ing between tasks are affect­ed by lev­el of task prac­tice across the adult lifes­pan. We devel­op a com­pu­ta­tion­al account of task switch­ing that spec­i­fies the tem­po­ral dynam­ics of acti­vat­ing task-rel­e­vant rep­re­sen­ta­tions and inhibit­ing task-irrel­e­vant rep­re­sen­ta­tions and how they vary with extend­ed task prac­tice across a num­ber of age groups. Prac­tice mod­u­lates the lev­el of acti­va­tion of the task-rel­e­vant rep­re­sen­ta­tion and improves the rate at which this infor­ma­tion becomes avail­able, but has lit­tle effect on the task-irrel­e­vant rep­re­sen­ta­tion. While long-term prac­tice improves per­for­mance across all age groups, it has a greater effect on old­er adults. Indeed, exten­sive task prac­tice can make old­er indi­vid­u­als func­tion­al­ly sim­i­lar to less-prac­ticed younger indi­vid­u­als, espe­cial­ly for cog­ni­tive mea­sures that focus on the rate at which task-rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion becomes avail­able.

The Study in Context:

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