Researchers from Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences and the University of Toronto in Canada published on Thursday findings related to how older people perform cognitive tasks. The researchers found that if older people perform cognitive tasks in the morning, they have better results. The morning cognitive performance should be used to perform more challenging intellectual tasks, according to scientists.
“Time of day really does matter when testing older adults,” says lead author John Anderson. “This age group is more focused and better able to ignore distraction in the morning than in the afternoon.”
The researchers tested the memory of individuals split by age in two groups. On one side, 16 young adults aged 19 to 30, and on the other 16 mature individuals aged 60 to 82, participated in the study. Both groups took memory tests in the afternoon, between 1 and 5 PM.
The tests consisted in recalling various pictures and word combinations from a computer screen. To make the tests harder, the researchers randomly inserted irrelevant pictures to some texts and some irrelevant texts to some pictures.
While the participants were taking the tests, their brains were scanned. The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allowed scientists notice which parts of the brain were put to work while taking the test.
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Morning cognitive performance indicated by brain activity
The young adults had less trouble filtering out the distracting information, compared to their older counterparts. They displayed a higher level of ‘idling’, not thinking of something in particular. Thus, they are presumed to have more difficulties while trying to focus.
When the researchers tested the older participants during the morning, results changed. The older participants had parts of the brain responsible for attention activated.
Lead author John Anderson comments that “Their improved cognitive performance in the morning correlated with greater activation of the brain’s attentional control regions – the rostral prefrontal and superior parietal cortex – similar to that of young adults.”
The results are important, because they might lie a foundation to combat myths according to the elders generally have troubles doing intellectual work. If their morning cognitive performance is increased, they can undertake more mentally difficult tasks then, like doing taxes or seeing a doctor for a new condition.
The results were published in the journal Psychology and Ageing.