Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old people give most honest advice
(also, harshest)

Seems like i may have gotten this a bit early in life...

from BoingBoing
Apparently, as your ability to control impulses declines with age, so does your ability to smooth over other people's feelings via white lies and omissions. The upside to this: Advice from old people is more likely to be honest ... if a little on the painful side.

Scientific American reports on a recent study that's supposed to show how dwindling executive function can simultaneously impair your social graces and improve your Dear Abby skills.
Researchers recruited 19 undergrads and 32 adults in their 60s and 70s. They split the older adults into two groups, based on the adults' abilities to control their behaviors and impulses--called executive function, which naturally declines with age. Then the researchers showed all three groups a photo of a visibly obese teen, along with a list of her complaints, like trouble sleeping and lack of energy--symptoms associated with childhood obesity.

What advice could they offer this girl? Well, only half of the higher functioning adults and a third of the college kids brought up the girl's weight as the possible source for her problems. But 80 percent of the adults with cognitive declines mentioned weight. They also gave twice as many helpful tips, like more exercise, a better diet, and delivered them with more empathy.

Sadly, I'm not sure we can declare this an unequivocal win for cognitive decline. After all, "honesty" is a relative thing, dependent on your own beliefs. The same process that might prompt your Grandma to offer useful and empathetic weight-loss advice is probably also the driving force behind somebody else's Grandma's tendency to yell racist epithets at the mailman.

Both old ladies are telling you what they really think—which seems to be what this study is actually about. But being willing to tell people what you really think doesn't necessarily equal good advice.

Image: Some rights reserved by Sukanto Debnath

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