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  • Ramscar Lab 16:29 on 01.10.2016 Permalink
    Tags: Aging, , Decision Making, ,   

    Exploratory Decision-Making as a Function of Lifelong Experience, Not Cognitive Decline 

    Our latest aging study has just been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The paper reports work done with Nate Blanco, Kirsten Smayda and Todd Maddox at the University of Texas, Austin, Bradley Love (University College London) and Ross Otto (New York University). It helps illustrate just how important computational models are to our understanding of changes in behavior across the adult lifespan, showing why it makes no sense to talk about processing declines in the absence of models of what is being processed, and how.

    Here’s the abstract:

    Older adults perform worse than younger adults in some complex decision-making scenarios, which is commonly attributed to age-related declines in striatal and frontostriatal processing. Recently, this popular account has been challenged by work that considered how older adults’ performance may differ as a function of greater knowledge and experience, and by work showing that, in some cases, older adults outperform younger adults in complex decision-making tasks. In light of this controversy, we examined the performance of older and younger adults in an exploratory choice task that is amenable to model-based analyses and ostensibly not reliant on prior knowledge. Exploration is a critical aspect of decision-making poorly understood across the life span. Across 2 experiments, we addressed (a) how older and younger adults differ in exploratory choice and (b) to what extent observed differences reflect processing capacity declines. Model-based analyses suggested that the strategies used by the 2 groups were qualitatively different, resulting in relatively worse performance for older adults in 1 decision- making environment but equal performance in another. Little evidence was found that differences in processing capacity drove performance differences. Rather the results suggested that older adults’ performance might result from applying a strategy that may have been shaped by their wealth of real-word decision-making experience. While this strategy is likely to be effective in the real world, it is ill suited to some decision environments. These results underscore the importance of taking into account effects of experience in aging studies, even for tasks that do not obviously tap past experiences.

  • Ramscar Lab 20:12 on 01.13.2014 Permalink
    Tags: Aging, , , ,   

    Ageing research goes to press 

    We are pleased to announce that Topics in Cognitive Science has just released our extended article The myth of cognitive decline: Non-linear dynamics of lifelong learning, with a companion introduction to the research by Profs Wayne Gray and Thomas Hills, who ask: Does cognition deteriorate with age or is it enhanced by experience?

    Abstract for “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”

    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.

    You can check out some of the press at Language Log, The New York Times, National GeographicThe Telegraph, The Independent, Psychology Today (in Fulfillment at Any Age Statistical Life), The Daily Mail, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The National Post, The Times of India, and Gawker. Or listen to the radio segment on the BBC’s World Service. There’s also a lively comment thread over at Reddit Science.

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