Researchers say brain is at its best at age 24
Published Thursday, April 17, 2014 8:08AM EDT
Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada claim to have pinpointed 24 as the age at which cognitive motor performance begins to decline. The good news is that age seems to come with better strategies to make up for the decrease in processing speed.
The results of the Canadian study, which is among the first to advance a precise age for the start of cognitive decline, were recently published in the journal PLOS One.
To test cognitive motor performance, which is defined as how quickly the brain reacts to factors in the environment, researchers at Simon Fraser University recruited 3,305 players of the video game "StarCraft 2" whose ages ranged from 16 to 44.
Played in real time against live opponents, the online game demands a high level of concentration, mental agility, strategy and reaction speed. As the game records a log of each player's movements, researchers were able to study the reaction times and overall performance of the study participants in a way that is not possible in real-life settings.
The data allowed researchers to identify the surprisingly young age of 24 as the start of a decline in cognitive motor performance, which manifested itself through slower speed in the game. When a 39-year-old and a 24-year-old with otherwise similar skill levels were pitted against one another, the younger player's cumulative reaction time over a 15-minute game was 30 seconds faster, a significant difference in the fast-paced game.
However, the researchers point out that older players often scored higher than their speed alone might indicate, suggesting that they are using adaptive strategies and shortcuts to make up for their decreased reaction times. In the game as in everyday life, it would seem that performance is a function of both the decline in cognitive speed and corresponding adaptations that allow the brain to become more efficient.