The Elderly React Slowly Because They Want To Be Right

01/01/2012 11:09 pm ET

By Christie Nicholson
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

Older folks may appear to react or process info slowly. But there may be a method to their meander-ness: they’re making sure they get it right. 

Scientists gave undergrads and adults over 60 visual tests. In one, a computer screen would show an array of asterisks and the subjects had to choose as fast as they could whether there were between 31 and 50 or between 51 and 70. In a second test, the subjects saw a string of letters and quickly decided whether the letters spelled a real English word or not.

The researchers found little difference in accuracy between the younger and older subjects, although undergrads had significantly faster response times. But the older participants’ slower response times were not all the result of a decline in skills. In other tests, the older subjects were encouraged to decide faster, and their response times greatly decreased with hardly any loss of accuracy.

The researchers think it might be a greater desire to avoid mistakes that makes the elderly more deliberate. Because, as the old adage says: if you don’t have time to do something right, how will you find the time to do it again?

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