Staying Sharp Helps Us Embrace Life
A study published in the January 2012 issue of the journal "Psychology and Aging Engagement" showed that involving older adults in cognitively challenging tasks not only boosted mental abilities but also made the subjects more willing to try new experiences. The researchers at the University of Illinois maintain that this is the first time an intervention without drugs has demonstrated that personality traits once believed to be constant throughout a lifetime can changed for the better.
Psychology professors Brent Roberts and Elizabeth Stine-Morrow found that the psychological trait termed "openness" – being flexible, creative, embracing new ideas and pursuits – is positively correlated with enhanced cognitive abilities. The 183 randomly selected participants in the study were 60 to 94 years old. They were given tasks and worked at their own pace. Then they returned to get materials that were increasingly challenging each time they completed one set. A control group that did not attempt the cognitive tasks showed no change in openness by the end of the study.
According to an article on the online news bureau of the university, Stine-Morrow said, “We wanted participants to feel challenged but not overwhelmed. While we didn’t explicitly test this, we suspect that the training program – adapted in difficulty in sync with skill development – was important in leading to increased openness. Growing confidence in their reasoning abilities possibly enabled greater enjoyment of intellectually challenging and creative endeavors.”
Roberts added, “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. 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.”