CogniFit's Science blog: Older People Find It Harder To See The Wood For The Trees

Older People Find It Harder To See The Wood For The Trees

An interesting study published in the latest issue of Elsevier's Cortex has found that when presented a picture of many trees, young people will tend to say at first sight "this is a forest". However the older you get, the most likely is for you to notice a single tree before your brain realize it is seeing a forest!

This study demonstrates that the speed at which the brain processes a larger picture is slower as you get older.

It seems that this change that comes with age is correlated with a specific aspect (and potentially a decline) of visual perception, also known as Gestalt perception (the brain's tendency to perceive many similar smaller objects as being part of a bigger entity).

The researchers studied the cognitive abilities that let the brain focus on the local and global aspects of visual stimuli, in a group of young and elderly healthy subjects. Older subjects had a more difficult time to concentrate on the global picture.

The researchers also found that older people had more trouble with the Gestalt principle of Good Continuation (the brain's preference for continuous shape - your mind will see a square even when some corner of the shape are missing - we mentally "paint" the rest of a pattern.)

These findings provide some evidence that change in attention - our capacity to one thing, while ignoring others - are correlated to healthy aging and the need to maintain a healthy brain and memory