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Older Minds

November 18, 2016

The poorly focused mind may hold advantages in some kinds of problem-solving.



The advantages of an unfocused mind. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Older people aren’t as good at staying focused on tasks as younger people are. They have “reduced cognitive control,” meaning their minds drift. But University of Toronto researcher Tarek Amer and his colleagues report in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that a wandering mind may be useful when it comes to tasks that require accessing and processing a wide range of information.

TAREK AMER (University of Toronto):

Younger adults might focus more on trying to use the information at hand or information that is given in a particular context to solve any sort of problem, but older adults might be using more information that they’ve encountered in the past, and we think reduced cognitive control might possibly aid in this decision making process.


The research suggests that the somewhat distractable mind seen in older adults is sometimes just what’s needed to ignite inspiration and insight. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon