One of the negative effects of aging is difficulty putting aspects of life in order. Thankfully, our brain is able to develop incredible strategies to slow down the effects of aging, such as building categories to process, organize and understand information.
Neuroscientists from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), including Sabrina Schenk and Prof. Dr. Boris Suchan, discovered that our minds categorize things differently as we get older. They designed a categorization test, conceived as part of Collaborative Research Center 874, and observed how the young and older people participating in the study performed. Participants were asked to organize circles with varying color combinations into two categories. Some circles were distinctly different, while others looked similar to each other. The researchers documented the subjects’ answers and recorded their brain waves via an EEG and an eye tracker to observe their line of vision during the test.
Both age groups easily categorized the similar-looking circles, however the distinctly different circles were a challenge to categorize for the older participants. Although the younger people in the study had an easier time switching from one strategy to the other, the older people paid more attention to the details and looked more closely to analyze that part of the test. According to Schenk, “To a certain extent, the brain is able to slow down negative effects of aging by increasing its level of attentiveness.”
Canada’s University of Western Ontario possesses a computer simulation that confirmed the aforementioned results. The RUB hopes to test avid computer gamers—subjects whose attention level has been especially trained. If these subjects perform extraordinarily well in the categorization task, the results may lead to exciting possibilities for the elderly to train their attentiveness.