Researchers at the University of Cambridge in England have used an old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode to determine that young minds respond in a similar way to events, but as we get older, our thought patterns diverge.
In a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the researchers also report that older people tended to be more easily distracted than younger adults.
For their study, the researchers recruited 281 people between the ages of 18 and 88 and had them watch an edited version of “Bang! You’re Dead,” a 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity.
The researchers found a surprising degree of similarity in the thought patterns in the younger subjects. Their brains tended to light up in similar ways and at similar points in the program, the researchers discovered.
This similarity disappeared in the older subjects. Their thought processes became more idiosyncratic, suggesting they were responding differently to what they were watching and were possibly more distracted, the researchers postulate.
The greatest differences were seen in the higher order regions at the front of the brain, which are responsible for controlling attention (the superior frontal lobe and the intraparietal sulcus) and language processing (the bilateral middle temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus).
The findings suggest that our ability to respond to everyday events differs with age, possibly due to altered patterns of attention, according to the researchers.
“As we age, our ability to control the focus of attention tends to decline, and we end up attending to more distracting information than younger adults,” said Dr. Karen Campbell from the Cambridge Department of Psychology and first author on the study.
“As a result, older adults end up attending to a more diverse range of stimuli and so are more likely to understand and interpret everyday events in different ways than younger people.”
“We know that regions at the front of the brain are responsible for maintaining our attention, and these are the areas that see the greatest structural changes as we ages, and it is these changes that we believe are being reflected in our study,” she said.
“There may well be benefits to this distractibility. Attending to lots of different information could help with our creativity, for example.”