No-Mind is better than one that's full of it
- Study Shows That A Cluttered Brain Doesn't Remember
20 Apr 2011
Lapses in memory occur more frequently with
age, yet the reasons for this increasing
forgetfulness have not always been clear.
According to new research from Concordia
University, older individuals have reduced
learning and memory because their minds tend
to be cluttered with irrelevant information when
performing tasks. Published in The Quarterly
Journal of Experimental Psychology, these findings
offer new insights into why aging is associated
with a decline in memory and may lead to practical solutions.
"The first step of our study was to test the
working memory of a younger and older population
and compare the results," says Mervin Blair,
first author and a PhD student in Concordia's
Department of Psychology and a member at the
Centre for Research in Human Development. "In our
study, working memory refers to the ability of both
retaining and processing information."
Some 60 participants took part in the study: half
were an average of 23 years old, while the other
half was about 67 years old. Each participant was
asked to perform a working memory task, which included
recalling and processing different pieces of information.
"Overall, we showed that our older participants
had reduced working memory compared to our
younger participants," says Blair. "Younger adults
were better than the older adults at recalling
and processing information."
"Our study was novel because we looked at how the
ability to recall and process information at the
same time changes as people get older," adds Karen Li,
senior author and a professor in Concordia's
Department of Psychology and a member of the Centre
for Research in Human Development.
Older people don't purge irrelevant info
The next step was to determine if there was a
timeframe when the ability to delete irrelevant
information, known as inhibition deletion, changed.
This was measured using a sequential memory task .
Images were displayed in a random order and
participants were required to respond to each image
in a pre-learned manner. Once again, the youngsters
outperformed their older counterparts. "The older
adults had poor inhibition, repeatedly responding
to previously relevant images," says Blair.
Analyses were conducted to determine the relationship
between the ability to clear irrelevant information
and working memory ability. "Poor inhibition
predicted a decline in the recall component of
working memory and it also predicted decline in
the processing component of working memory," says
Blair. "Basically, older adults are less able to
keep irrelevant information out of their consciousness, w
hich then impacts on other mental abilities."
For those who are having trouble remembering,
Blair suggests that focusing and reducing mental
clutter may help. "Reduce clutter, if you don't,
you may not get anything done."
Keeping a mind clutter-free can be more difficult
as people age, especially during periods of stress
when people focus on stressors, yet Blair says
relaxation exercises can help de-clutter the brain.
What's more, the brain continues to function optimally
into old age when it is mentally stimulated by
learning a new language, playing an instrument,
completing crossword puzzles, keeping an active
social life and exercising.
About the study:
The study, "The role of age and inhibitory efficiency
in working memory processing and storage components,"
was authored by Mervin Blair, Kiran Vadaga, Joni Shuchat
and Karen Li of Concordia University.
Partners in research:
This work was supported by funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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