A new Georgia Institute of Technology study has found that older people may not be able to remember important details because their brains have a hard time “forgetting” other irrelevant things that are soaked up subconsciously, thus making them less confident in their memories.
The study looked at brain activity in college students and adults over the age of 60 using EEG sensors. All the subjects were shown photos of common objects accompanied by a color or scene. The subjects were told to focus on one and ignore the other. One hour later, the subjects were asked to recall specific things about the object.
Researchers found that neither age group was very good at remembering what they were told to ignore and both age groups did well remembering what they were told to focus on. However, when the researchers asked each subject if they were certain about their recall, the older group expressed less certainty.
The EEG data showed that the older subjects experienced a brief “mental time travel” interval when attempting to recall details. This meant the older brains spent more time and effort trying to recall details. In addition, the older group had more trouble forgetting the “clutter” they had been told to ignore.
The data showed that the younger group recalled details more quickly and used less brainpower to do so. Their brains never stored the irrelevant information, which kept their memories free of clutter and made them more confident in their answers.
The researchers said that the older group’s lack of confidence in their recall can lead to manipulation, which could help explain why seniors are more vulnerable to financial scams.
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