“You’re Not Getting Older, You’re Getting Better!” – Brain Studies Show Five Reasons Why

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Although a lot of posted job opportunities and openings use the word “energetic,” a term that may be assumed to be a code word for “young,” young persons at whom they are aimed often find themselves at a disadvantage for these jobs because of their lack of experience.

Why is experience so important? It is probably because along with experience comes the package of general know-how and the instincts we call “good judgment.”

Consider this story of good judgment from Malcolm Gladwell’s book about brain processes, Blink. His point is that an experienced and erudite brain performs complex and unknowable calculations to reach a sound judgment. Gladwell uses the example of a Greek sculpture that an art dealer offered the Getty Museum for $10 million. The art dealer said the sculpture was a rare piece from the 6th Century B.C.

The statue seemed authentic, its provenance appeared to be legitimate, and its surface stood up to scientific testing. The Getty Museum paid the $10 million. A little later, three respected art experts questioned the statue’s authenticity on grounds they could not explain. In their long-cultivated artistic judgment, there was something inauthentic about the statue.

A specially convened group of art experts agreed: Something about the statue did not sit well with their combined knowledge and experience. They could not put their fingers on the precise reason, but their visceral feelings and mental impressions led them to the conclusion that the sculpture was a fake.

In time, the provenance of the statue was proved to be falsified. It was even shown that the scientific testing could have been gamed by a deliberate “aging” of the piece. The most similar sculpture in the world that they could find had been concocted by a forger.

Judgment and experience told the tale.

Five Reasons Why Your Brain Is Getting Better – Harvard Medical School

  1. Experience, expertise and accumulated wisdom leading to good judgment is but one of five ways in which the older brain is better than the younger brain. Although it does not always happen in the blink of an eye, according to a Harvard Medical School health publication, older people are better at problem-solving as they sieve through information to make accurate judgment calls. An AARP report by T.R. Reid says the same.
  1. We all know that many older people are technologically challenged, and that many elderly people resist “new-fangled” devices and learning new things. However, once older people make it past the initial learning curve, they do very well. This may be due to the fact that older people have developed the humility and patience to learn a new task one element at a time, making sure they have been thorough before going on to the next step.

The Harvard Medical School health publication Why You Should Thank Your Aging Brain provides a possible explanation why older people take longer to learn a task but do better at it than younger, faster learners. The older brain has a harder time letting go of a previous step. This can be an advantage, as it may serve to assure that the previous step was thoroughly learned.

  1. Older people use both sides of the brain, not just one. Dr. Bruce Yankner of Harvard Medical School, who co-directs the school’s laboratories on aging, was quoted in the health publication cited above as saying that MRI brain imaging has shown one side of young people’s brains lighting up when they are problem-solving; in older people both sides of the brain are brightly engaged in the task.
  1. Older people are more able to proceed with their work when negative events strike. In general, they are more resilient than younger people in this way. The amygdala, the brain’s seat of emotion and memory, is more impervious to negative experiences in older people than in younger people, says the Harvard Medical School.
  1. Older people are rarely at a loss for words. They are better able to express themselves verbally, with the many advantages that go along with this skill. They have spent a lifetime learning their language and generally have more facility in it than a younger person.

Verbal tennis, anyone? It is often advisable not to get on the court with an older person.

Sources

Gladwell, Malcom. Blink. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Reid, Timothy. Great Fakes #1: The Getty Kouros. The Archaeological Review, May 24, 2008. Available online at: http://thearchaeologicalreview.blogspot.com/2008/05/great-fakes-1-getty-kouros_24.html

Reid, T.R. The Value of Older Workers: Experience Makes them better Problem Solvers, more Reliable. AARP, September 2015, Available online at

http://www.aarp.org/work/on-the-job/info-2015/workers-over-50-valued-in-workforce.html.

Harvard Medical School (April 1, 2015). Why You Should Thank Your Aging Brain. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. Available online at:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/why-you-should-thank-your-aging-brain.