Young and Old May Use Different Strategies to Learn
Washington, DC — Younger and older people may use different strategies to learn a numerical task, according to a new study in the February 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Both groups became more skilled at the task after five days of training, but subsequent analysis showed they improved for different reasons. Younger people (ages 19-35) improved by becoming better at integrating different types of numerical information, but older individuals (ages 60-73) improved by suppressing less important information. The findings demonstrate how learning processes change as people get older and highlight the importance of using these processes to guide effective cognitive training programs in the future.
In each training and test trial, Marinella Cappelletti, PhD, Vincent Walsh, PhD, and colleagues at University College London showed participants two patterns of dots and asked them which had more. In each pattern, the dots could be of mixed size and color. Although both groups improved their overall performance with training, younger participants did particularly well in trials in which the size and number of dots were correlated, suggesting they were integrating different types of information. In contrast, the older participants did particularly well in trials in which the size and number of dots were not correlated, suggesting they were better able to ignore distracting information.
“These results are the first to indicate that successful learning can depend on different, age-dependent cognitive processes, which reflect fundamentally distinct ways the brain works at different ages,” the study authors said.
The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of nearly 40,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. Cappelletti can be reached at email@example.com. More information on learning and aging can be found on BrainFacts.org.