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Getting Older and Better -- at Correcting Mistakes

Getting Older and Better -- at Correcting Mistakes

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That phrase has been applied to human seniors for centuries (it first appeared in a book on animal husbandry in 1534). But a new study shows it’s pretty far off the mark. Researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute recently found that with age you gain not only knowledge but a greater ability to correct your mistakes.

The researchers tested 44 young adults (average age 24) and 45 older adults (average age 74) by asking them hundreds of questions until each volunteer reached a total of 40 incorrect answers. They were also given the correct answer following each incorrect response. It took an average of 244 questions for the older adults to reach 40 mistakes and around 230 for the younger adults. Both groups were then re-tested on the questions they got wrong. Those results? The unexpected! The older group corrected more of their errors than the younger group did.

The researchers concluded “the older adults were able to rally their attentional resources to learn the true answers.” In other words, they were better at learning from their mistakes and updating their knowledge with new information. (That’s why you can’t consider most politicians to be mature adults.)

So if you’re worried about your accumulating birthdays, this study should boost your confidence. And you young’uns? If you stay healthy by exercising regularly and opting for a diet of veggies, fruits, fish, skinless poultry, and whole grains, your RealAge has an ever-brighter future.

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

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