Cognitive performance, lifestyle and aging - Sternberg, Ballard e.a. (2013) - Article

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Understanding which factors influence cognitive functioning has implications for health and policies. Usually, the experiments can only have a few people. But to actually be able to say something about the entire population, it is necessary to recruit a large number of participants across a wide range of demographic backgrounds.

Lumosity is a web-based cognitive training platform. It is the largest dataset of human cognitive performance. In this training platform users can do cognitive training exercises and assessments. They can also voluntarily provide data concerning their demographic characteristics and participate in surveys about health and lifestyle.

Two questions are being examined based on this dataset. First they search for relationships between lifestyle factors and cognitive performance. After that they examine how learning ability for different types of cognitive tasks changes with age, and how these age-related changes differ for tasks that depend on different cognitive abilities.

Lifestyle and cognitive performance

The focus here lies on two very important lifestyle habits, namely sleep and alcohol consumption. Regarding sleeping habits, about seven hours of sleep shows the highest cognitive performance. Regarding alcohol consumption, the results differ from a previous study. The previous study found that alcohol intake the likelihood of poor cognitive function reduces. However, this was not found this time at higher levels of consumption.

Aging and cognitive performance

Little is known about how the ability to learn different kinds of skills changes over the lifespan. This is where Lumosity is very handy, because the users are very interested in the cognitive training and can train as often as they would like over the course of months or years. To give a first look into this relationship, they examined how a user’s age influences how much he or she improves over the course of the first twenty-five sessions of a cognitive task. Then they compared tasks that rely on abilities linked to fluid intelligence to those that rely more on crystallized knowledge.

The results show that performance decreased in all exercises with increasing age. But this happened to a greater extent for the exercises that rely on fluid intelligence than those that rely on crystallized knowledge.

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