‘Over the Hill at 24′: The aging of the twentysomethings

StarCraft 2, pictured above, was used to measure decline in motor performance. (Courtesy PLOS ONE)
StarCraft 2, pictured above, was used to measure decline in motor performance. (Courtesy PLOS ONE)

Most studies of aging concentrate on the deterioration of those more than 50 years old, and paint a woeful portrait of life in decline once people are past their breeding years.

So it’s only fair that two researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University have chosen a different group: people aged 16 to 44.

And they’ve determined that somewhere around age 24, these people too suffer a decline in “cognitive motor performance.”

Translated, that means they start slowing down.

Psychology doctoral student, Joe Thompson, associate professor Mark Blair and Andrew Henrey, a statistics and actuarial science doctoral student, published their findings in a PLOS ONE journal paper entitled “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.” The study is summarized in lay language on the university’s Web site.

The study compared the performance of 3,305 StarCraft 2 players aged 16 to 44. StarCraft 2 is described as “a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money.”

According to Thompson: “After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance. … This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill.”

Before anyone approaching 24 panics, the researchers note that while they may be slower, older competitors play smarter and can still win.

They “seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss,” says Thompson.

The authors write in the study:

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. 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.

 

 

 

 

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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