Study says we’re over the hill at 24

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you’re over 24 years of age you’ve already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

SFU’s Joe Thompson, a psychology doctoral student, associate professor Mark Blair, Thompson’s thesis supervisor, and Andrew Henrey, a statistics and actuarial science doctoral student, deliver the news in a just-published PLOS ONE Journal paper.

In one of the first social science experiments to rest on big data, the trio investigates when we start to experience an age-related decline in our cognitive motor skills and how we compensate for that.

The researchers analyzed the digital performance records of 3,305 StarCraft 2 players, aged 16 to 44. StarCraft 2 is a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money.

Their performance records, which can be readily replayed, constitute big data because they represent thousands of hours worth of strategic real-time cognitive-based moves performed at varied skill levels.

Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers distilled meaning from this colossal compilation of information about how players responded to their opponents and more importantly, how long they took to react.

“After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance,” explains Thompson, the lead author of the study, which is his thesis. “This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill.”

But there’s a silver lining in this earlier-than-expected slippery slope into old age. “Our research tells a new story about human development,” says Thompson.

“Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss.”

For example, older players more readily use short cut and sophisticated command keys to compensate for declining speed in executing real time decisions.

The findings, says Thompson, suggest “that our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood, but are constantly in flux, and that our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation.”

Thompson says this study doesn’t inform us about how our increasingly distracting computerized world may ultimately affect our use of adaptive behaviours to compensate for declining cognitive motor skills.

But he does say our increasingly digitized world is providing a growing wealth of big data that will be a goldmine for future social science studies such as this one.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada’s top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

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4 thoughts on “Study says we’re over the hill at 24”

  1. I find this article to be very reassuring, as at only 19 years of age, i know i still have a few good years ahead of me! All jokes aside, I do find that this article makes a great deal of sense, if we bear in mind that the average life-span of humans was a mere 45 years in the 1950’s and 30 in the medieval times. Thus the age of 24 would be a logical place for the descent into old age to begin. However due to various factors such as: improvements in agriculture, developments in medicine and sanitation as well as urbanisation- we have extended the life span of our species to a global average of 67 years. The previous points raised in comments highlight that whilst youth may bring speed in terms of cognitive function to the table, the older participants may have been able to apply previous experiences to enable them to compete successfully with the younger players.

    One has to wonder if the results can be considered valid, as there would be a much larger cadre of players younger than 24 than those over 24, Would this not skew the results?

  2. I’m sorry, I meant to write chance not change…. must have gotten confused while speaking of adapting.

  3. These results actually make sense if you look at it at a fight-for-survival kind of way. Say for instance if we look at older generations that lived in a more primitive type of world very different from the modern one we live in now.

    In matters of survival the younger individuals would only be able to rely on their cognitive motor performance to help them out in life-threatening or in stress situations since they are still ‘new’ to the environment and needs time to get acquainted where as the older individuals that has more experience in this type of environment starts to develop skills and are not so much reliant on their cognitive motor performance as the younger individuals are.

    According to this text, what is most surprising to me is that the older individuals doesn’t necessary lose their cognitive-motor abilities but that these abilities are in constant flux enabling these older individuals to be able to use these abilities as a ‘crutch’ for when they experience changes in their environment and still have a change to ‘adapt’.

  4. Knowing that the slippery slope into old age now starts as early as 24 is a shocker. Although this results where only based on a computerized skill applying game, they hold potential clues that can be related to real-life situations. Cognitive motor-speed is the speed at which the brain communicates with the body to perform an action.This study thus shows that although the cognitive motor-speed in adults from the age of 24 decreases the skill level increases. This was evident in that adults where slower at operating the game system but to compensate for this downfall, they had higher skill levels.On the other hand the cognitive motor speed in younger and faster adults seemed to interfere with their skills level.

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