The myth of cognitive decline: Non-linear dynamics of lifelong learning

Michael Ramscar*, Peter Hendrix, Cyrus Shaoul, Petar Milin, Harald Baayen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

As adults age, their performance on many psychometric tests changes systematically, a finding that is widely taken to reveal that cognitive information-processing capacities decline across adulthood. Contrary to this, we suggest that older adults'; changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows. A series of simulations show how the performance patterns observed across adulthood emerge naturally in learning models as they acquire knowledge. The simulations correctly identify greater variation in the cognitive performance of older adults, and successfully predict that older adults will show greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the properties of test stimuli than younger adults. Our results indicate that older adults'; performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. We consider the implications of this for our scientific and cultural understanding of aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-42
Number of pages38
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Language
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Psychometric testing

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