Learning requires both mental flexibility, or “plasticity,” and stability. A new study finds that in learning a visual task, older people exhibited a surprising degree of plasticity, but had trouble filtering out irrelevant information, suggesting that their learning was not as stable.
November 26, 2014

A new study led by Brown University reports that older learners retained the mental flexibility needed to learn a visual perception task but were not as good as younger people at filtering out irrelevant information.

The findings undermine the conventional wisdom that the brains of older people lack flexibility, or “plasticity,” but highlight a different reason why learning may become more difficult as people age: They learn more than they need to. Researchers call this the “plasticity and stability dilemma.” The new study suggests older people may indeed be facing it.