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Giving the elderly the time of day.

Young adults typically outperform the elderly on tests of memory and other thinking tasks. But researchers may have inadvertently exaggerated the mental advantages of youth by conducting most of their experiments in the afternoon, a team of psychologists contends in the September PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE.

The time of day when psychological testing takes place has an important effect on the responses of younger and older people, assert Cynthia P May of Duke University in Durham, N.C., and her colleagues. The researchers asked 210 young adults, age 18 to 22, to specifythe time of day duringwhich their mental facility and work performance attained the highest levels. Exactly half expressed no time preference, 93 opted for evening hours, and 12 chose the morning. In contrast, 74 of 91 older adults, ages 66 to 78, said they operated best in the morning; the rest had no favorite time of day.

May's group gave memory tests to 20 young adults who said they functioned best in the evening and to 22 older adults who stated a preference for the morning. Participants read 10 shott passages and then tried to identify sentences that had appeared in the passages. Half of each group took the test in the morning, half in the late afternoon.

In the afternoon, memory scores of younger volunteers greatly surpassed those of their older counterparts. But in the morning, the performance of young adults dropped and that of older adults rose, reaching about the same level.

In an informal survey of researchers conducted at a scientific conference last year, May's team found that most studies of aging and mental fuhction occur in the afternoon.
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Title Annotation:most studies on cognitive abilities of aged usually conducted in afternoon, but most aged perform better in morning
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 18, 1993
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