Elderly adults may be just as mentally quick as younger people, but merely take longer to respond during conversations because they take their time considering their response, a new study suggests.
The study shows that those over age 60 take as long to make a quick decision as do young children. Both children and elderly participants responded more slowly than young adults.
Researchers recorded the reaction time and accuracy of 300 volunteers who were told to react to flashing images on a computer screen. They found that both reaction time and accuracy improved with age to a certain point, and then dropped off.
The slow response in children is due to still-developing brains, while the sluggishness in seniors is likely due to their deliberately weighing a more thoughtful response, said Roger Ratcliff, coauthor of the study by Ohio State University, published in the journal Child Development.
Ratcliff said seniors may be trying to compensate for age-linked conditions like memory loss by taking longer to mull over their response.
“Older people don’t want to make errors, so what they do is adopt a more conservative decision criteria, and that slows them down,” Ratcliff said.