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When Are You Over the Hill? Try Age 24


Think you should worry about your brain slowing down post-age 50? Too late. It's already started at age 24. Or at least that's what a Canadian study of players of a hypercompetitive computer game has found.

Apparently our cognitive motor skills - meaning the speed at which we process something and then react to it - peak by age 24, then begin to diminish slowly.

But don't be depressed! We make up for it by becoming more cunning and crafty, replacing speed with better strategy. (Picture the difference between young, whip-smart reporter Zoe Barnes in the TV show House of Cards and its older, wily politician Frank Underwood. And who won that battle, may I point out?)

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The three researchers from Canada's Simon Fraser University published their findings April 9 in the online journal PLOS ONE, with a title that begins "Over the Hill at 24."

The trio wanted to investigate when people start to experience an age-related decline in their cognitive motor skills and how they compensate for that, the researchers explained in a news release. They gathered data from a group of 3,305 players, ages 16 to 44, of the fast-moving, cutthroat computer war game "StarCraft II."

Psychology doctoral student Joe Thompson, associate professor Mark Blair, and Andrew Henrey, a statistics and actuarial-science doctoral student, tracked the players' performance data and used complex statistical modeling to figure out how players responded to opponents and how fast it took them to react.

Sorry, twentysomethings, but as lead author Thompson put it, 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."

But there was good news for older players: What they lacked in speed, they made up for in strategy. They used shortcuts and other streamlined techniques to play the game more efficiently, "enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss," Thompson said.

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"The older player is slower than the younger player, but they can be equivalent players, so cunning does come into play," Blair told the Vancouver Sun.

What the findings indicate, Thompson noted, is that we are continuously adapting to aging's effects, beginning quite early. "So give yourself a pat on the back for just maintaining your skills," he said. "If you do, you're showing growth and development."

Photo: sobcontrollers/flickr

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