Over 24? Your Brain May Already Be Over the Hill, According to Science

Are you over 24 years of age? Bad news: you'll never have as strong cognitive motor performance as you once did. A new study based on adults' video game playing activity shows that cognitive motor performance reaches its prime in humans around the tender age of 24, and then your reflexes are "over the hill."

An interdisciplinary team of a psychologist and a statistician at Simon Fraser University in Canada wanted to study how good people's cognitive motor performance is during different times in their lives, and how older people (who obviously experience cognitive motor decline) may be compensating for that loss in abilities. Their methods:

The researchers analyzed the digital performance records of 3,305 StarCraft 2 players, aged 16 to 44. StarCraft 2 is a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money. Their performance records, which can be readily replayed, constitute big data because they represent thousands of hours worth of strategic real-time cognitive-based moves performed at varied skill levels.
Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers distilled meaning from this colossal compilation of information about how players responded to their opponents and more importantly, how long they took to react. "After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance," explains... the lead author of the study, which is his thesis. "This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill."

So, basically, if you make detailed records of how teenagers and adults play video games, you find that 24-year-olds have the best reaction and response times. It's all downhill from there, for the more- and less-skilled players alike.

Feeling old and decrepit yet? There's some good news, too: "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." In other words, although you lose raw brainpower as you age, you may be able to compensate for that with an increased store of knowledge gained from practice and experience. This is probably domain-specific, so in this case the older players had been playing StarCraft extensively. But you can build up practice and experience in other (non-video game) domains that are important to you, too.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but there's probably no better general cushion from the effects of aging than a healthy diet. Don't waste your money on "brain training" websites, and do drink your coffee. Finally, I would recommend that you avoid betting money on video game competitions in which you're pitted against 24-year-olds.