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Older workers have fewer senior moments

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Employers who think their oldest workers are the ones most prone to having a "brain cramp" every now and then might want to think again.

A new German study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, discovered that the day-to-day irregularities of cognitive performance is particularly low in older adults when compared to their younger peers.

As part of the study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin tested more than 200 adults — between ages 20 and 31 and 65 and 80 — on a number of different mental capabilities, including perceptual speed, episodic memory and working memory. They tested the participants for 100 days as a way to assess not only how much they were able to learn, but also to gauge their day-to-day fluctuations.

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The researchers found that on all nine cognitive tasks, the older group showed less performance variability and was more consistent from day-to-day than the younger group.

"Further analyses indicate that the older adults' higher consistency is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood," said Florian Schmiedek, one of the study's authors.

Researchers said the findings are important in the debate over older employees' potential in today's workplace.

"One of our studies in the car production industry has shown that serious errors that are expensive to resolve are much less likely to be committed by older staff members than by their younger colleagues," said Axel Börsch-Supan, another researcher studying productivity of the labor force in aging societies at the Max Planck Institute. "Likewise, in other branches of industry that we have studied, one does not observe higher productivity among the younger relative to the older workers."

Börsch-Supan said on balance, older employees' productivity and reliability is higher than that of their younger colleagues.

The research was supported by the Max Planck Society and an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation donated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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