If decision-making is slower after the age of 20, it is not because the speed of information processing in our brain is slowing down. Quite the contrary!
This is a common misconception that our brain starts to deteriorate from the age of 20. According to a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the brain only begins to decline from the age of 60. To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed health data from previous studies involving 1.2 million people between the ages of 10 and 80.
No reduction in information processing
Based on this data, the researchers concluded that reaction time decreases from adolescence to the twenties and then increases each year until the age of 60. Therefore, if decision times are slower from age 20 onward, it is not because the brain’s speed in processing information is reduced.
The common assumption is that the older we get, the slower we react.
Before this study, researchers thought this was due to reduced brain activity. “The general assumption is that the older we get, the slower we react to external stimuli,” explains Mischa von Krause, one of the study’s authors. If this were the case, the speed of information processing would be faster in our twenties and then slows down with age. An idea that this study disproves.
More cautious decisions with age
The researchers hypothesize that this slower decision-making is mainly due to the fact that with time and maturity, individuals weigh the consequences of their decisions more carefully. In a way, they become more cautious to avoid mistakes. But there are other factors that decrease with age, such as the time it takes for information perceived with the eyes to reach the brain, which may also explain slower decision making.
A study that employers should read
This study can also have an impact on the job market. After a certain age, employers usually prefer to hire younger adults under the age of 50 because they are believed to be faster and quicker. But according to this study, this is a bias that is wrong because 40 and 50-year-old brains are not slower. The speed with which they can process problems that require quick decisions is just as good at 25 as it is at 50!
Starting at age 60, there is a gradual decline
But rest assured, our brains do not deteriorate immediately starting at age 60. Researchers point out that the average speed of information processing gradually declines after this age. “While we observe a general age-related decline in mental speed starting at about age 60, we also find a large variation in mental speed across all age groups,” says Misha von Krause. This means that many older people still had very high levels of mental speed.