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'Over The Hill' Begins At 24: SFU Study

If you're over the age of 24, you've already reached the peak of your cognitive motor skills (your brain's ability to process something and react to it), according to a recent Simon Fraser University study.

So you're "over the hill" at 24. It's OK, you can weep. We'll wait.

SFU researchers looked at the performance of 3,305 computer war game StarCraft 2 players aged 16 to 44 in their study, published this month in PLOS ONE journal.

It was valuable data because the video game players provided thousands of hours of real-time strategy, and "cognitive-based moves," said an SFU press release.

"The game records every action the player performs throughout the game and every action their opponent performs,” associate professor and thesis supervisor Mark Blair told The Vancouver Sun.

"And unlike chess, the players don’t have to take turns, so if you can do things a little faster you literally get to make more moves than your opponent."

The team — led by SFU psychology doctoral student Joe Thompson and including and statistics doctoral student Andrew Henrey — used the data to track how players responded to opponents, and how long it took them to react. It found that the decline in speed started at a rather young age.

"After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance,” said Thompson. "This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill."

But what older players lacked in reaction speed, they appeared to make up for in strategy.

“Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss," Thompson explained.

He said the results show that these cognitive capabilities are not stable in adulthood, but are actually constantly in flux: "Our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation."

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