Higher levels of education tied to later ages of peak cognitive functioning

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Brain Cognition

Scientists have established a link between higher levels of education and peak cognitive functioning at later ages.

The study by University of California, Berkeley, scientists appears in PLOS ONE wherein they have examined relationships between educational attainment, cognitive performance and learning in order to quantify the cumulative effect of attending school. One of the important findings of the study is that higher levels of education during younger years may help stave off age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers said their findings, which are based on review of performance of around 196,000 subscribers to Lumosity online brain-training games, may be of value to psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists, education researchers and policymakers.

Traditionally it has been believed that higher education is likely to boost incomes and helps prepare individuals for a workplace with often-changing skill sets; however, this hasn’t been seen in practice as fewer than 40 percent of adults in the United States are expected to graduate from college in their lifetimes, and the percentage declines for more advanced degrees.

Until now, research has been inconclusive about the cognitive impacts of higher education and whether the quantity of schooling can influence the acquisition and maintenance of cognitive skills over time.

Researchers say higher levels of education are strong predictors of better cognitive performance across the 15- to 60-year-old age range of their study participants, and appear to boost performance more in areas such as reasoning than in terms of processing speed.

The study’s findings are consistent with prior evidence that the brain adapts in response to challenges, a phenomenon called “experience-dependent brain plasticity.” Based on the principles of plasticity, the authors predicted improvements in cognitive skills that are repeatedly taxed in demanding, cognitively engaging coursework.

 

The researchers analyzed anonymized data collected from around 196,000 Lumosity subscribers in the United States, Canada and Australia who came from a range of educational attainment and diverse backgrounds. Participants complete eight behavioral assessments of executive functioning and reasoning that are unrelated to educational curricula as part of their subscription.

The research team also looked closely at a subset of nearly 70,000 subscribers who finished Lumosity’s behavioral assessments a second time after about 100 days of additional cognitive training. Testing before and after the assessments measured cognitive performance in areas such as working memory, thinking quickly, responding flexibly to task goals and both verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

 

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