News / Health

Memory Doesn't Necessarily Fade with Age

Ability to recognize and remember faces is sharpest in our 30s

Jessica Berman

A group of researchers has found that the ability to recognize faces may take more time to mature and could be sharpest in our 30s.
A group of researchers has found that the ability to recognize faces may take more time to mature and could be sharpest in our 30s.

Memory doesn't necessarily fade with age. New research shows the ability to recognize and remember faces is sharpest in our 30s.  

Experts say people are best at many mental tasks, such as recalling names and quickly processing new information, in their 20s.  

But a group of researchers has found that the ability to recognize faces may take more time to mature. Laura Germine, a graduate student in the psychology department at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, bases the conclusion on a study involving some 44,000 volunteers between the ages of 10 and 70. They were asked, online, to memorize and identify unfamiliar faces.

Germine says the recognition success rate got better with age, up to a point. "What we found is not only did it really change in adolescence, but it actually changed in early adulthood as well.  In fact, the ability didn't peak until the early 30s, which was actually very surprising for us."

It didn't matter if the faces were male, female or those of children. Eighty-three percent of people in the 30-to-34 year old age range gave correct responses.  People in their 20s were best only at recognizing upside down faces.

After the mid-thirties, researchers found a person's skill at recognizing faces declined slowly.  By age 65, investigators say the ability appears to match that of a 16 year old.

According to Germine, it appears face recognition is something that takes a long time to hone, adding that there are many other psychological and cognitive changes that take place as we enter middle age that are not yet studied.

"So, I think it's suggestive that there might be a whole realm of information during adulthood and interesting changes that need to be looked at in order to understand how these systems develop," Germine says.

The results of the study are published in the journal Cognition.

People who are interested in testing their own ability to recognize unfamiliar faces can go to the website testmybrain.org.  

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