Does individual thinking come with age?
In most cases it does but not always to the good. We often become bigoted instead of adopting a more liberal viewpoint, as we see events through a clouded tunnel vision that blurs and distorts the lucidity of clear thought.
On the other hand, our experience of long life makes us less vulnerable to the vagaries of time and logically more endowed with the kind of wisdom that longevity of life bestows on us.
In general, all young people are alike, to garble Tolstoy’s axiom, but each person is old in his or her own way.
Scientists have found that the young respond to the world in a much more uniform way than their elders. Psychologists at the University of Cambridge put 218 volunteers, aged between 18 and 88, in FMRI scanners and monitored their brain activity as they watched a condensed version of a short Alfred Hitchcock film, Bang! You’re Dead. The 1961 feature about a young boy who runs amok with his uncle’s gun was chosen for its eye-catching suspense and emotional appeal.
The scientists noted that the younger participants’ brains all tended to light up in the same way, with markedly similar responses in areas linked to the conscious control of attention.
Older people tended to have more distinctive patterns of brain activity, suggesting that they were paying less heed to the plotting and following their own trains of thought.
‘These findings suggest as we age, our experience of the world becomes increasingly individualistic, differing not only from those who differ from us in age, but also from our age-matched peers,’ the researchers wrote in the journal, New Neurobiology of Ageing. ‘This mental meandering might make older people more reactive in some situations,’ wrote Karen Campbell, who led the research. ‘Older adults attended to more irrelevant information which helped them pick up subtle visual cues missed by younger people.’
Old age, as we know it, has the following advantages: the rich experience of longevity, the wisdom that emerges from having lived an active and variant life, and the memories of times past when calamity and fulfilment play an integral part in our destiny.
But all this is dependent on one’s environment and to a larger degree on our state of health – free of the dreaded degeneration of our mental capacity.