Experience versus Speed; June 2005; Scientific American Mind; by Marion Sonnenmoser; 2 Page(s)
Jake, aged 16, has a terrific relationship with his grandmother Rita, who is 70. They live close by, and they even take a Spanish-language class together twice a week at a local college. After class they sometimes stop at a caf¿ for a snack. On one occasion Rita tells Jake, "I think it's great how fast you pick up new grammar. It takes me a lot longer." Jake replies: "Yeah, but you don't seem to make as many silly mistakes on the quizzes as I do. How do you do that?"
In that moment, Rita and Jake stumbled across an interesting set of differences between older and younger minds. Pop psychology says that as people age their brains "slow down." The implication, of course, is that elderly men and women are not as mentally agile as middle-aged adults or even teenagers. But although certain brain functions such as perception and reaction time do indeed take longer, that slowing down does not necessarily undermine mental acuity. Indeed, evidence shows that older people are just as mentally fit as younger people, because their brains compensate for some kinds of declines in creative ways that young minds do not exploit as well.