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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 2

Older Adults Prize Accuracy More Than Speed

Decisions usually take longer for the elderly, but they don’t have to



Stewart Cohen and Pam Ostrow/Getty Images

Older adults often take longer to make a decision than young adults do. But that does not mean they are any less sharp. According to research at Ohio State University, the slower response time of older adults has more to do with prizing accuracy over speed.

In the study, published recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, college-age students and adults aged 60 to 90 performed timed tests of word recognition and recall. All participants were equally accurate, but the older group responded more slowly. When the researchers encouraged them to work faster, however, they were able to match the youngsters’ speed without significantly sacrificing accuracy. “In many simple tasks, the elderly take longer mainly because they decide to require more evidence to make their decision,” says co-author Roger Ratcliff. When an older mind faces a task that requires speed, he says, a conscious effort to work faster can often do the trick.

This article was published in print as "Seniors, Think Fast."

This article was originally published with the title "Seniors, Think Fast."

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