They say that youth is wasted on the young, and according to a new study, youth ends at not at 30 or 40 but at age 24. At least, that's when mental reaction times peak. Unlike other studies that focus on cognitive declines in elderly populations, the authors of this new work argue that following age 24, we embark upon a slow but steady downward descent into an ever more sluggish pace of thinking.
The authors of the new study arrived at these distressing findings after recruiting around 3,300 people aged 16 to 44 to play StarCraft 2. They monitored the players' reaction times as they grappled with sudden ambushes and made complex, quick strategic decisions. All in all, the researchers gathered more than 34 million rows of data from the players, the Vancouver Sun reports.
Beginning at age 24, the researchers found that the players became slower and slower at making those potentially life-saving decisions (in the game, that is). Here's the Vancouver Sun with more on the findings:
The difference in response time to a new situation or threat between a 24-year-old player and a 39-year-old player is about 150 milliseconds, taking a sizable bite out of the advantage a professional with thousands of hours of experience has over a novice, according to [psychologist Mike] Blair.
“The old view that when you reach adulthood you enjoy a long period of cognitive stability and you can forget about aging until you get old. But what we are finding is that we adapt continuously throughout our lives to changing ability, so give yourself a pat on the back for just maintaining your skills. If you do, you’re showing growth and development.”
The good news is that the researchers found that older players tended to make up for their slowness in other ways, finding strategic shortcuts or making their actions more efficient compared to their younger counterparts who tended to rely on speed and complexity for staging attacks.