Brain function peaks at 24, but it's not all downhill
A new study has revealed that a person’s cognitive performance peaks at the age of 24, at which point cognitive motor functioning begins to decline with age.
Most folks believe this decline occurs during middle age around the time they reach 45 years of age, but researchers for the study found that cognitive tasks related to memory and speed actually peak much earlier.
Earlier research on cognitive motor performance has primarily focused on the elderly and generally failed to explore when the deterioration in performance began.
For this study, however, the research team used something more than just simple reaction time tests, with two doctoral students at Simon Fraser University in Canada and their supervisor opting to use a video game to conduct experiments instead.
Using data from a large social science experiment involving the real-time strategy game, StarCraft 2, the research team analyzed and replayed some 870 hours of the game from 3,305 StarCraft 2 players who were between the ages of 16 and 44.
The object of the game is for players to tactically defeat the army of their opponent while successfully managing their own civilization's economy and military growth.
The video game is played in real-time, so paying attention to detail and quick reaction time are both important skills for a successful Starcraft 2 gameplay.
Indeed, each player is constantly making numerous adjustments and decisions as they develop strategies for beating their opponent, involving skills that the researchers said are also required to win a game of chess or to otherwise manage an emergency situation that occurs suddenly and in real-time.
The researchers used a complicated statistical model to reach their findings as it pertained to the behavior and response time of the players.
This model also involved measuring a wide range of variables involved in playing Starcraft 2, including the following: 1) looking-doing latency, which is similar to reaction time; 2) dual-task performance; 3) total reported hours of StarCraft 2 game playing experience; 4) effective use of hotkeys; and 5) effective management of view-screens and maps.
Accordingly, the statistical model they used was able to provide them with results that made sense, as the findings showed that players after or around the age of 24 began to have slower reaction times that affected their cognitive performance when playing the video game.
Lead author and doctoral student, Joe Thompson, said that this cognitive deterioration remained present regardless of whether the player still had a high level of skill.
However, Thompson also said that – despite the link to declined cognitive functioning after age 24 – he and his tam found that older game players managed to adapt to their cognitive decline, telling what Thomson claims is a “new story about human development.”
He explained that older players, although they had slower reaction times, appeared to make up for that by utilizing strategies that were more simple and streamlined. This therefore allowed them to compensate in ways that made up for their diminished cognitive performance.
Thompson added that the older players also managed to efficiently manipulate the use of hotkeys and multiple screens; thus, further compensating for their slowed-down speed and diminished ability to execute commands in real-time.
"Our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood," suggests Thompson’s findings of this study are published in PLOS One, where he states that cognitive-motor abilities aren’t stable across our lifespans; rather, they’re in a state of constant flux.
SOURCE: PLOS One, Over the Hill at 24: Persistent Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline in Reaction Times in an Ecologically Valid Video Game Task Begins in Early Adulthood, Joseph J. Thompson, et al., DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094215, published online April 9, 2014.