A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology finds that older people struggle to remember important details because their brains can’t resist the irrelevant “stuff” they soak up subconsciously. As a result, they tend to be less confident in their memories. Researchers looked at brain activity from EEG sensors and saw that older participants wandered into a brief “mental time travel” when trying to recall details. This journey into their subconscious veered them into a cluttered space that was filled with both relevant and irrelevant information. This clutter led to less confidence, even when their recollections were correct. Cluttering of the brain is one reason older people are more susceptible to manipulation, the researchers say.
The researchers noticed differences in brain activity between the young and old. Older adults’ brains spent more time and effort trying to reconstruct their memories. “While trying to remember, their brains would spend more time going back in time in an attempt to piece together what was previously seen,” one researcher said. “But not just what they were focused on — some of what they were told to ignore got stuck in their minds.”