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Learning with Age

December 10, 2014

Both younger and older people can readily learn new information, but older people have a harder time filtering out irrelevant and distracting information.



Learning with age. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People often assume that learning gets harder as you age. But it’s not as simple as that, according to Brown University cognitive neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe. He says both older and younger people have the mental flexibility necessary for learning. But older people have more difficulty filtering out irrelevant information.

TAKEO WATANABE (Brown University):

For example, while driving they might find it more difficult to ignore visual information, say the colors of trees or the shadow cast by another car, may distract attention from driving.


In the journal Current Biology, Watanabe and his team report that older people scored just as well on a visual learning task as younger people, but they also retained completely irrelevant information that younger people ignored. He says since brain capacity is limited, older people run the risk of replacing important information with useless details. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.