Study Reveals Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline after Age 24

April 15, 2014

Science

Study Reveals Cognitive Motor Skills Decline after Age 24

A new study from Simon Fraser University reveals that cognitive motor performance starts to decline in individuals after age 24.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you’re over 24 years of age you’ve already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

SFU’s Joe Thompson, a psychology doctoral student, associate professor Mark Blair, Thompson’s thesis supervisor, and Andrew Henrey, a statistics and actuarial science doctoral student, deliver the news in a just-published PLOS ONE Journal paper.

In one of the first social science experiments to rest on big data, the trio investigates when we start to experience an age-related decline in our cognitive motor skills and how we compensate for that.

The researchers analyzed the digital performance records of 3,305 StarCraft 2 players, aged 16 to 44. StarCraft 2 is a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money.

Their performance records, which can be readily replayed, constitute big data because they represent thousands of hours worth of strategic real-time cognitive-based moves performed at varied skill levels.

Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers distilled meaning from this colossal compilation of information about how players responded to their opponents and more importantly, how long they took to react.

“After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance,” explains Thompson, the lead author of the study, which is his thesis. “This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill.”

But there’s a silver lining in this earlier-than-expected slippery slope into old age. “Our research tells a new story about human development,” says Thompson.

“Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss.”

For example, older players more readily use short cut and sophisticated command keys to compensate for declining speed in executing real time decisions.

The findings, says Thompson, suggest “that our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood, but are constantly in flux, and that our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation.”

Thompson says this study doesn’t inform us about how our increasingly distracting computerized world may ultimately affect our use of adaptive behaviors to compensate for declining cognitive motor skills.

But he does say our increasingly digitized world is providing a growing wealth of big data that will be a goldmine for future social science studies such as this one.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada’s top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

Publication: Thompson JJ, Blair MR, Henrey AJ, “Over the Hill at 24: Persistent Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline in Reaction Times in an Ecologically Valid Video Game Task Begins in Early Adulthood,” PLoS ONE, 2014, 9(4): e94215; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094215

Source: Simon Fraser University

Image: Simon Fraser University

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2 Responses to “Study Reveals Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline after Age 24”

  1. Madanagopal.V.C. Says:

    Cognitive motor functions loss should be a function of age which culminates in total absence of Dopamine produced by brain in the ultimate case of Parkinson’s Disease, which is age related. As long as the neurotransmitter is the driving engine in motor functions, the case of diminished return of such neuro transmitters with age is a logical one. Don’t we see slowing down in eating by elders and onset of Diabetes with age with diminished production of Insulin by the pancreas in DM-II ? Dryness of the skin, greying of the hair by loss in production of melonin is also age related. All the proteins produced by the cells of the body undergo gradual declination in production whether in actual muscle cells, bone cells form or harmone or enzyme form they produce in the life time, with gradual tapering of Telomeres of the DNA proclaiming a gradual death which is inbuilt. Thank You.

    Reply

  2. Jory Ferrell Says:

    Isn’t there a hidden possible reason for the decrease in speed that’s actually only indirectly related to aging: Learning.
    When you, you can actually get lazy. Relying on shortcuts and macro’s may create a situation where everything requires less mental effort to execute and so you slow down. Of course they may have put controls in place to account for this, or maybe there is a reason this simply isn’t the case.

    Reply

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