The what, why and how of health and development

Study confirms the older you are, the wiser you become

A study that involved getting people to estimate how steep a hill is may have confirmed the long-held belief that people get wiser with age.

Credit: CC/Schnaars

Researchers at Swarthmore College in the United States asked 50 young students and 50 adults from the nearby area to estimate the steepness of a hill near the college.

According to the research lead Professor Frank Durgin, people tend to over-estimate how steep a slope is – even estimating a 5 degree slope as 20 degrees.

In their latest research they found that those who had some knowledge about slope gradients – such as those who did downhill skiing – were more accurate with their guesses about the slope.

Interestingly, they also discovered that older participants gave estimates similar to those from the ‘knowledgeable’ participants. “Even if the older participants did not report having any specific knowledge, it still seemed like their life experience had made them better estimators,” Durgin said.

Although it’s a pretty low sample size, the study findings contradict previous beliefs that hills might look even steeper to older people.

“Our findings are probably surprising to many because of the widespread belief that things like ageing can make the world look different,” he said.

“But the perception of the geometry of the world, in itself, doesn’t seem to be affected by ageing, apart from possible effects of lost acuity.”

“[Older adults] seem to have acquired wisdom with their years about the difference between how thing seem and how things are. This is a point well worth making.”

 

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