Smarten Up & Open Up

Cognitive gains associated with personality openness in the elderly

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Openness, a personality trait most believe people either have or do not have, seems to come alongside cognitive gains. New research suggest senior's mental capacity benefits from playing mind-games

When researchers designed an experiment to boost cognition in the elderly, their willingness to partake in new experiences grew as well.

"Consider playing cognitive games with older loved ones."

"The current study is the first to demonstrate that a cognitive training intervention has the capacity to change a personality trait," explains Joshua Jackson, Ph.D. lead author on the study from Washington University of St. Louis.

Dr. Jackson's research team studied the mentality and personality of 183 volunteers between 60 and 94 years of age. Half he participants were randomly assigned to take part in the cognitive intervention, while the other half acted as controls.

The experimental group participated in a 16-week two-part home trial. The first part involved an inductive reasoning training program adapted from previously successful cognitive training programs.

In addition, puzzles were added to provide a fun alternative for inductive reasoning training.

The investigators used accredited measures to interpret personality and inductive reasoning capabilities.

The "Big Five" personality traits were all analyzed, including extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.

Of the five, the training program only statistically affected openness measures, or the ability of participants to embrace novel ideas, concepts, or happenings. Research suggests that the other four operate apart from cognitive function.

Authors note that the light-hearted atmosphere created through their intervention could have additionally created an atmosphere to stimulate openness.  

Nonetheless, the gains were significant.

"The cognitive intervention had an effect above and beyond increasing inductive reasoning, suggesting that the intervention affects levels of openness, not that openness changes as a result of changes in inductive reasoning," Dr. Jackson concludes.

More anticipated results from the study included cognitive gains amongst those engaged in the training, including improvement in pattern recognition and overall problem-solving capabilities.

Co-author on the study, Brent Roberts, Ph.D., professor at the University of Illinois, challenges those who assume personality is cemented in early life.

"There are certain models that say, functionally, personality doesn't change after age 20 or age 30. You reach adulthood and pretty much you are who you are. There's some truth to that at some level," Dr. Roberts comments.

"But here you have a study that has successfully changed personality traits in a set of individuals who are (on average) 75. And that opens up a whole bunch of wonderful issues to think about."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 19, 2012
Last Updated:
January 19, 2012