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Distractions Benefit The Ageing Brain

Distractions might be good for older adults in carrying out certain tasks, says a new study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.


Ageing comes with too many unpleasant effects that humankind has always attempted to tackle. Perhaps, distractions might do the trick?

Ageing makes concentrating on specific tasks more challenging. Thus, if distractions are really advantageous, they will not be as unwanted as they normally are. The new research suggests that a decreased ability in focusing on activities might be beneficial for individuals over the age of 50.

The authors explain that getting easily distracted can assist middle-aged people to perform tasks like problem solving, and to assimilate new information.

“Different types of tasks benefit from a more broad focus of attention, and this is usually seen in tasks that involve thinking creatively or using information that was previously irrelevant,” explains study first author Tarek Amer, from the University of Toronto. “The literature gives us the impression that older adults are essentially doomed as their cognitive abilities decrease, when, in reality, many older adults get along just fine in their day-to-day lives, and we think that shows that ageing adults don’t always need to have high cognitive control.”

According to the team, reduced cognitive control makes older people better at coming up with creative problem-solving ideas. You might think decreased control puts them at a disadvantage in their day-to-day life, but the researchers explain that we do not need high levels thereof for our daily activities like walking down the street, for instance. Also, the participants of the study how greater skill at recognising patterns in their environment. These findings suggest that older adults could perform better than younger ones in certain tasks.

The authors also argue that previous research focusing on this subject is not quite representative of the actual situations because the tasks under study were ones requiring high levels of cognition.

“Many of the tasks that we study in classic cognitive psychology are tasks that require high cognitive control, but these assigned tasks might not accurately mirror what people do in the real world because they limit distractions,” says co-author Lynn Hasher, also from the University of Toronto. “But a distraction in one setting can actually be useful information in another setting, and the more information you have, the better able you’re going to be to address a current problem.”


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