StarCraft II Study Indicates Cognitive Decline Begins At Age 24

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

If performance in computer or video games is any indication, a person has already reached his or her peak cognitive performance levels by the age of 24, according to new research published in a recent edition of the journal PLOS ONE.

Lead author Joe Thompson, a doctoral student in psychology at Simon Fraser University, and his colleagues set out to determine when humans begin to experience age-related decline in their cognitive motor skills, and how they compensate for those performance issues.

They reviewed the digital performance levels of more than 3,300 16- to 44-year-old players of the real-time strategy game StarCraft II, which the authors explain is an immensely popular title which often inspires competition amongst players for real-world money. The performance records can be readily replayed and represent nearly 900 hours of “strategic real-time cognitive-based moves performed at varied skill levels,” the authors noted.

By using complex statistical modeling, Thompson, his thesis supervisor and SFU professor Dr. Mark Blair and statistics and actuarial science doctoral student Andrew Henrey were able to sift through those hundreds of hours worth of data and distill information about how players were able to respond to their opponents, as well as their reaction times during matches.

“After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance. This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill,” Thompson, who completed the paper as his thesis, explained in a statement Friday.

“Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss,” he added. For example, the authors note that older gamers typically use short cuts and sophisticated command keys in order to help compensate for their decrease in real-time decision-making ability.

According to Thompson, the results suggest that the cognitive-motor capabilities of a person do not remain fixed throughout his or her entire adult life. They are in a state of constant flux, he said, and an individual’s daily performance levels are the result of the ongoing interplay between changes and adaptations.

While the PLOS ONE paper does not educate us about how our ever more computerized world could eventually impact our use of adaptive behaviors to make up for the decay of our cognitive motor skills, the authors said our increasingly digital world will continue to provide a wealth of data that can help scientists with similar social research projects in the near future.