Older Adults Less Likely to Know They’ve Made A Mistake According To New Study

According to a new study, the older one is, the less likely you are to recognize you’ve made a mistake. At the University of Iowa, a team of researchers created a simple computerized test to see how young adults and older adults know they’ve made an error.

Both groups performed the same in tests involving averting their gaze from an object on the screen. Younger adults, however, acknowledged the fact they failed to look away from the circle compared to the older adults. The older subjects tended to be more adamant they had done correctly.

This research shows new insight into how older people see their decisions. Mainly how they view their performance either in judging their ability to drive or how often they think they’ve taken medications.

In realizing fewer errors, there can be more frequent and severe consequences, says one researcher. Since you can’t fix a mistake you’ve made if you don’t realize you’ve made it.

The research team found 38 younger adults whose cumulative age average was 22 and 39 older adults whose collective age averaged 68. The test subjects took a series of tests involving looking away from a circle that appeared in a box off to the side of a computer screen. Even with the test’s simplicity, the younger group couldn’t help but glance at the circle before shifting their gaze about an average of 20 percent of the time.

That part of the study is expected, according to the study’s corresponding author, Jan Wessel. It’s human nature to observe something new or unexpected. The point of the test was to have the subjects fail.

After each time a subject failed, the researchers asked if they had made an error. Then, the researchers asked their level of certainty using a scale from unsure to very sure to determine their confidence in their test result.

Younger Adults V.S. Older Adults and Their Ability To Tell When Mistakes are Made

The younger test subjects correctly acknowledged when they made a mistake about 75 percent of the time. The older group, however, was only correct 63 percent of the time when asked how they fared with the test. Therefore, over one-third of the instances, the older participants hadn’t realized they made a mistake.

Furthermore, the younger group when making an error were less certain than the older group that they were correct.

This finding shows that during the times the younger group thought they were correct, but had made an error, they had some idea that they might have erred. The older adults, however, had no idea they were wrong.

The observations were underscored by measuring how much the pupils of the participants dilated during the tests. In most animals as well as humans, pupils dilate when something unexpected happens. Surprise, fright, and other vital emotions trigger this response. It also occurs when people think they’ve made a mistake.

The research found the younger group’s pupils on average dilated when they thought they erred. The effect, however, lessened when they didn’t recognize they had made a mistake. The older group in comparison showed a substantial reduction of the pupil dilation after errors they identified and showed zero dilation when committing an error they didn’t realize.

Wessel says the focus on pupil dilation mirrors what they saw in the behavioral observations. The older group more often than not, don’t know when they made a mistake.