Attention to other points of view 'declines with age'


People pay less attention to other points of view and talk more about irrelevant details as they get older, according to a study.

Linguists made the findings by using computerised listening and visual tests to assess thinking skills in a group of people aged 17 to 84.

The results suggested that the ability to respond to different perspectives deteriorated with age.

The tests were carried out on a group of 100 people.

The aim was to investigate how the ability of participants to concentrate on one thing and ignore another influenced their ability to consider another person's perspective in conversation.

The researchers tracked inhibition - the ability to focus and ignore distracting information - and then switching - the ability to shift focus between two different sounds and filter relevant information.

Private information

The team of researchers, from Edinburgh University and Northwestern University in Illinois, found an age-related decline in attention switching skills, which determined how older adults responded to their partner's perspective.

For younger adults, their ability to filter distracting information determined their ability to consider others' points of view more effectively.

Madeleine Long, of Edinburgh University's school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences, said: "The study identified two attention functions that influence whether we consider another's point of view and how that changes as we age.

"This is particularly important for older adults, who are more susceptible to revealing private information.

"We hope these findings can be used to design targeted training that helps older adults improve these skills and avoid embarrassing and potential risky communicative errors."

The study is published in the journal Cognition.

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