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"姜是老的辣"有了科学依据

时间:2022-5-25 作者:哒哒英语

Behind all those canned compliments for older adults — spry! wily! wise! — is an appreciation for something that scientists have had a hard time characterizing: mental faculties that improve with age.

年长者一般会遭到如此的褒扬:思维敏捷!老谋深算!睿智!在这类称赞的背后,是对某种东西的赏析,科学家们一直非常难描述的东西:伴随年龄增长而增强的心智能力。

Knowledge is a large part of the equation, of course. People who are middle-aged and older tend to know more than young adults, by virtue of having been around longer, and score higher on vocabulary tests, crossword puzzles and other measures of so-called crystallized intelligence.

当然,在这个等式中,常识占了非常大一部分。与青年相比,中老年人了解的东西总是更多,由于他们活过的年头更长,而且在词语测试、填字游戏和其他“晶态智商”测试中,中老年人的得分也比较高。

Still, young adults who consult their elders (mostly when desperate) don’t do so just to gather facts, solve crosswords or borrow a credit card. Nor, generally, are they looking for help with short-term memory or puzzle solving. Those abilities, called fluid intelligence, peak in the 20s.

不过,青年(主如果在绝望的时候)请教年长者,不仅仅是为了搜集事实、做填字游戏,或者借用信用卡。一般更不是为知道决短期记忆或解谜方面的问题。这类能力称为“液态智商”,在20多岁时达到峰值。

姜是老的辣

No, the older brain offers something more, according to a new paper in the journal Psychological Science. Elements of social judgment and short-term memory, important pieces of the cognitive puzzle, may peak later in life than previously thought.

不,《心理科学》(Psychological Science)杂志上的新论文表示,年长者的大脑可以提供更多有哪些好处。社会判断和短期记忆的一些元素是认知能力的要紧组成部分,它们达到峰值的时间可能比大家之前觉得的更晚一些。

The postdoctoral fellows Joshua Hartshorne of M.I.T. and Laura Germine of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed a huge trove of scores on cognitive tests taken by people of all ages. The researchers found that the broad split in age-related cognition — fluid in the young, crystallized in the old — masked several important nuances.

麻省理工(MIT)博士后约书亚·哈茨霍恩(Joshua Hartshorne)与哈佛(Harvard)和马萨诸塞州总医院(Massachusetts General Hospital)博士后劳拉·杰米恩(Laura Germine)剖析了很多由所有年龄段参加的认知测试数据,发目前涉及年龄的认知上,笼统的两分法——青年液态智商高,年长者晶态智商高——掩盖了一些要紧的细微差别。

“This dichotomy between early peaks and later peaks is way too coarse,” Dr. Hartshorne said. “There are a lot more patterns going on, and we need to take those into account to fully understand the effects of age on cognition.”

“早期达到高峰和较晚时候达到高峰,这种两分法太粗略了,”哈茨霍恩博士说。“除此之外还存在不少的模式,大家需要考虑这类原因,来充分知道年龄对认知的影响。”

The new paper is hardly the first challenge to the scientific literature on age-related decline, and it won’t be the last. A year ago, German scientists argued that cognitive “deficits” in aging were caused largely by the accumulation of knowledge — that is, the brain slows down because it has to search a larger mental library of facts. That idea has stirred some debate among scientists.

很多科学文献谈到了和年龄有关的认知能力降低,这篇新论文不是对有关结论的第一个挑战,也不会是最后一个。一年前,德国科学家声称,年龄增长的认知“缺点”在非常大程度上是由常识的积累导致的——也就是说,大脑速度减慢,是由于它需要在一个更大的脑部信息库里搜索东西。这个说法已经在科学界引起了一些争论。

Experts said the new analysis raised a different question: Are there distinct, independent elements of memory and cognition that peak at varying times of life?

一些专家称,这份新的剖析结果提出了一个不一样的问题:在记忆力和认知能力中,有没一些独一无二的独立的元素,是在生命中的不同时刻达到峰值的?

“I think they have more work to do to demonstrate that that’s the case,” said Denise Park, a professor of behavior and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas. “But this is a provocative paper, and it’s going to have an impact on the field.”

“我觉得要证明这一点,他们还需要做更多工作,”德克萨斯州大学达拉斯分校(University of Texas at Dallas)行为与脑科学教授丹尼斯·帕克(Denise Park)说。“但这篇论文已经引发了讨论,它将对这一范围产生影响。”

The strength of the new analysis is partly in its data. The study evaluated historic scores from the popular Wechsler intelligence test, and compared them with more recent results from tens of thousands of people who took short cognitive tests on the authors’ websites, testmybrain.org and gameswithwords.org. The one drawback of this approach is that, because it didn’t follow the same people over a lifetime, it might have missed the effect of different cultural experiences, said K. Warner Schaie, a researcher at Penn State University.

这个最新剖析结果的强大之处,一定量上在于它所使用的数据。这份研究评估了著名的韦氏智商测验(Wechsler intelligence test)的历史得分数据,将它们与数万人更最近的测试结果进行了比较。这类参与者在作者的网站上进行了简短的认知测试,网址分别是testmybrain.org和gameswithwords.org。宾夕法尼亚州立大学(Penn State)的研究职员K·瓦尔纳·沙依(K. Warner Schaie)说,这种办法的缺点在于,因为它不是追踪同一批人在生活各个阶段的状况,因此可能忽略了不同文化历程产生的影响。

But most previous studies have not been nearly as large, or had such a range of ages. Participants on the websites were 10 to 89 years old, and they took a large battery of tests, measuring skills like memory for abstract symbols and strings of digits, problem solving, and facility reading emotions from strangers’ eyes.

然而,以往的多数研究都没达到这样大的规模,也没覆盖这么广的年龄段。网站上的参与者年龄在10岁到89岁之间,他们参与了很多的测试,评估了对抽象符号和数字串的记忆力、解决问题的能力,与依据眼神解析陌生人情绪的能力。

At least as important, the researchers looked at the effect of age on each type of test. Previous research had often grouped related tests together, on the assumption that they captured a single underlying attribute in the same way a coach might rate, say, athleticism based on a person’s speed, strength and vertical leaping ability.

同样要紧的是,研究职员察看了年龄对每一项测试的影响。以往的研究常常把有关的测试分为一组,想当然地觉得它们捕捉到了一项基本属性,就像教练可以参考一个人的速度、力量和弹跳能力评估他的运动能力一样。

The result of the new approach? “We found different abilities really maturing or ripening at different ages,” Dr. Germine said. “It’s a much richer picture of the life span than just calling it aging.”

这种新办法的结果怎么样?“大家发现不一样的能力的确会在不一样的年龄臻于成熟,”杰米恩说。“它反映了生活中丰富得多的变化,而不仅仅是衰老。”

Processing speed — the quickness with which someone can manipulate digits, words or images, as if on a mental sketch board — generally peaks in the late teens, Dr. Germine and Dr. Hartshorne confirmed, and memory for some things, like names, does so in the early 20s. But the capacity of that sketch board, called working memory, peaks at least a decade later and is slow to decline. In particular, the ability to recall faces and do some mental manipulation of numbers peaked about age 30, the study found, “a fact difficult to assimilate into the fluid/crystalized intelligence dichotomy.”

杰米恩博士和哈茨霍恩博士证实,信息处置速度——好似头脑中有一块素描板,一个人在上面处置数字、单词或图像的速度——基本上在十八九岁的时候达到峰值;对一些事情的记忆力,譬如对一些名字的记忆,会在20岁出头的时候达到顶峰。但这个素描板的容量,即工作记忆,至少还要10年之后才能达到峰值,而且降低的速度非常慢。特别值得一提的是,研究发现,记忆一些人的长相与心算的能力,会在30岁左右达到峰值,“这个事实非常难用液态/晶态的智商二分法来讲解。”

The researchers also analyzed results from the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. The test involves looking at snapshots of strangers’ eyes on a computer screen and determining their moods from a menu of options like “tentative,” “uncertain” and “skeptical.”

研究职员还剖析了“眼神读心能力测试”的结果。在这项测试中,测试者需要看着计算机屏幕上陌生人双眼的照片,从一些选项中选出他们的心情,譬如“犹豫”、“不确定”和“怀疑”。

“It’s not an easy test, and you’re not sure afterward how well you did,” Dr. Germine said. “I thought I’d done poorly but in fact did pretty well.” Yet people in their 40s or 50s consistently did the best, the study found, and the skill declined very slowly later in life.

“这个测试并困难,你做完之后心里没底,”杰米恩说。“我以为我做的非常糟糕,但事实上成绩非常不错。”然而研究发现,四五十岁的人成绩最好,而且伴随年龄的进一步增长,这种能力降低得十分缓慢。

The picture that emerges from these findings is of an older brain that moves more slowly than its younger self, but is just as accurate in many areas and more adept at reading others’ moods — on TOP of being more knowledgeable. That’s a handy combination, given that so many important decisions people make intimately affects others.

这类发现所反映的状况是,年长者的大脑的运转速度比年青时慢,但在很多范围同样敏锐,而且更善于知道他人的情绪——不光是常识更渊博了。考虑到大家做出的很多要紧决定都会密切地影响他人,这是一个很好的状况。

No one needs a cognitive scientist to explain that it’s better to approach a boss about a raise when he or she is in a good mood. But the older mind may be better able to head off interpersonal misjudgments and to navigate tricky situations.

没人需要一名认知科学家来告诉自己,为何在老板心情好的时候,更合适找他谈加薪。但年长一些的人可能愈加善于防止人际关系上的误判,与应对棘手的局面。

“As in, ‘that person’s not happy with all your quick thinking and young person’s processing speed — he’s about to punch you,’” said Zach Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

“譬如,‘那个人看不惯你思维太快,那种青年的信息处置速度——他就要给你一拳了,’”密歇根大学的心理学教授扎克·汉布里克(Zach Hambrick)说。

The details of this more textured picture of the aging brain are still far from clear, and social measures like the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test have not been used much in this kind of research, Dr. Hambrick and other experts said. And it is not apparent from the new analysis whether changes in cognition with age result from a single cause — like a decline in the speed of neural transmission — or to multiple ones.

汉布里克和其他专家说,大脑衰老过程中更复杂状况的细节还非常不了解,眼神读心能力等社会化衡量标准也没被很多用于此类研究。除此之外,最新的剖析结果也没告诉大家,认知能力随年龄增长而发生的改变是单一原因——譬如神经传输速度的降低——还是多种缘由导致的。

But for now, the new research at least gives some meaning to the empty adjective “wily.”

但就现在而言,这项新研究至少给“老谋深算”这个空洞的形容词赋予了一些意义。

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