The myth of cognitive decline: non-linear dynamics of lifelong learning

Michael Ramscar, Peter Hendrix, Cyrus Shaoul, Petar Milin, Harald Baayen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


As adults age, their performance on many psychometric tests changes systematically, a finding that is widely taken to reveal that cognitive information-processing capacities decline across adulthood. Contrary to this, we suggest that older adults'; changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows. A series of simulations show how the performance patterns observed across adulthood emerge naturally in learning models as they acquire knowledge. The simulations correctly identify greater variation in the cognitive performance of older adults, and successfully predict that older adults will show greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the properties of test stimuli than younger adults. Our results indicate that older adults'; performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. We consider the implications of this for our scientific and cultural understanding of aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-42
Number of pages38
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
This article also appears in CogSci 2018: Virtual Issue:


  • Aging/physiology
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Computer Simulation
  • Human Development/physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning/physiology
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance/physiology


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