Feeling Young Leads to Thinking Young

Cognitive ability may influenced by how old you think you are

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Feeling young at any age may influence the way you think. New research shows that it may even influence your scores on a dementia test.

Recent research showed that more people scored in the dementia range when they were encouraged to feel older — especially when they were also encouraged to believe that cognitive decline is part of the aging process.

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A study led by Catherine Haslam, PhD, of the University of Exeter, sought to find out if people’s perception of their age could influence their scores on a dementia test.

They enrolled 68 people between age 60 and 70. Half the people were told that the age range in the study was from 40 to 70, so that they would feel they were on the older end of the group. The other half were told that the study ages ranged from 60- to 90-years-old, so they felt they were in the younger end of the group.

Participants were asked to read one of two articles. One was about memory loss and aging. The other was about general cognitive decline during aging. These articles were designed to lead the participants’ thoughts – either toward memory loss or toward general cognitive decline.

There were four groups of people in the study: 1) those that felt older and read an article about memory loss, 2) those that felt older and read an article about cognitive decline, 3) those that felt younger and read an article about memory loss and 4) those that felt younger and read an article about cognitive decline.

The participants were then given a set of clinical tests that included a standardized scale for dementia.

Researchers found that people who were led to believe they were in the older group and that read the article about cognitive decline in aging were more likely to meet criteria for dementia. In fact, 70 percent of the people who were in this group met criteria for dementia.

Only 14 percent of the people in other groups met criteria for dementia.

The authors conclude that self-perceptions about age and how this relates to cognitive ability can influence actual ability.

However, participants did not perform the cognitive tests before having their self-perceptions influenced, so it is unclear how the perceptions interacted with their actual ability. More research is needed.

This research was presented June 12 at the International Conference on Social Identity and Health. 

The results of this study have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so they may not have had the chance to be reviewed for quality and accuracy by other scientists.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 28, 2012
Last Updated:
December 4, 2012