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Enhancing cognition in older adults also changes personality

by Diana Yates / Jan 19, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A program designed to boost cognition in older adults also increased their openness to new experiences, researchers report, demonstrating for the first time that a non-drug intervention in older adults can change a personality trait once thought to be fixed throughout the lifespan. The research was led by Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, professor in Educational Psychology and chair of Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning.

Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person's cognitive abilities. But openness – being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits – does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.

The new study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, gave older adults a series of pattern-recognition and problem-solving tasks and puzzles that they could perform at home. Participants ranged in age from 60 to 94 years and worked at their own pace, getting more challenging tasks each week when they came to the lab to return materials.

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