Your Brain Slows After Age 24

Experience and wisdom compensate

Apr 15, 2014
Outside Magazine
OutsideOnline StarCraft gamer cognitive motor peak 24 twenties twenty-somethings

Gamers show cognitive motor control, StarCraft-II style.    Vincent Samaco/Flickr

In your late twenties and feeling sluggish? We've got bad news for you: Fresh research out of Canada's Simon Fraser University suggests that humans hit their peak cognitive motor performance around age 24.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE, chose to focus on people from age 16 to 44, rather than the elderly populations commonly observed when analyzing mental decline—and they used a somewhat surprising technique.

To gather information about how these relative youngsters performed cognitively, the scientists studied the results of 3,305 players of the popular computer game StarCraft 2

"After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance," said Joe Thompson, a psychology doctoral student and one of the study's authors. "This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill."

Simply put, after turning 24, our sharpness begins to decline across the board. But that doesn't necessarily mean the final few decades of our lives are universally doomed.

"Once 'over the hill,' experience and wisdom, the consolation prizes of age, are hoped to be sufficient to either attenuate this decline or at least compensate for it indirectly," the study explains. In fact, older Starcraft 2 competitors found ways to outsmart their sharper opponents, winning by relying on tested tactics and efficiency rather than impulsive strategizing.

The older study participants appear to have compensated "for a loss in response speed through the use of game mechanics that reduce cognitive load." Despite lacking the speed of their younger counterparts, these players seem generally smarter about how they go about their business.

Still, this new research might explain why Paul McCartney never topped the songs he penned at 24 for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.