Individuals rarely experience “substantial losses of mental speed” between the age of 20 and 60, academics have pledged.

Scientists from Heidelberg University found that rapid decision making rarely alters during a “typical working life”.

During the study, the team of researchers examined the findings of a virtual investigation which analysed the mental speeds of more than a million people.

They discovered that mental speed started to decline in the participants over the age of 60 years old.

Main author, Dr Mischa von Krause said: “The common assumption is that the older we get, the more slowly we react to external stimuli.

“If that were so, mental speed would be fastest at the age of about twenty and would then decline with increasing age.”

In the virtual trial, each participant had to place photographs into the groups ‘white’ or ‘black’, as well as putting words in to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories.

Whilst assessing the response times, the German-based academics detected delayed response times amongst older people, however the team have reported that it was not due to mental speed.

Dr Mischa von Krause added: “Instead, we think that older test subjects are mainly slower because they reply more cautiously and concentrated more on avoiding mistakes.”

According to the researchers, older people taking part in the study took more time to select the correct button after identifying the right answer in their mind.

They also revealed that deteriorating mental speeds were only present in those older than 60 years of age.

Dr Mischa von Krause concluded: “It looks as though, in the course of our life, we don’t need to fear any substantial losses of mental speed – particularly not in the course of a typical working life.

“Generally speaking, we should also note that the test subjects in all age groups included individuals with high and low mental speeds. Our results relate to the average trend.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

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