January 18th, 2012
11:27 AM ET

Study: Challenging seniors' brains can also change their personality

We’ve all heard the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks." But new research reveals that you CAN teach an older adult how to improve their brain skills, with the added effect of changing a personality trait, making them more open to new experiences.

Using subjects from a study designed to improve brain skills of older people, the researchers hypothesized that improving cognitive skills might also increase participants openness - a personality trait that allows a person to be receptive to new experiences or being engaged by novel ideas such as an intellectual challenge.

Lead researcher Elizabeth Stine-Morrow of the University of Illinois explains, “It also makes sense that, reciprocally, if you engage in cognitive abilities that you enjoy and that are rewarding, that will also make you open to experience. And that’s what we found.”

The study, published in Psychology and Aging, included 183 older adults, ages 60 to 94 years old. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to a 16 week long home-based program designed to improve their inductive reasoning skills, and the remaining subjects served as the control group. 

All participants were tested on measures of  inductive reasoning before the study began and again after the 16-week study period. The control group subjects simply engaged in the pre- and post-study testing.

Each training group participant was given self-guided material that included tests for recognizing patterns in numbers and letters, along with crossword and Sudoku puzzles, which also sharpen inductive reasoning skills. The material was designed to allow each subject to feel challenged by the material, but not overwhelmed or frustrated by the tasks.

Participants kept logs of how much time they spent on the material, and each week they met with researchers, turning in their logs, and getting more challenging material to work on the following week.  While both the control subjects and the intervention subjects tested similarly in the pre-study testing, after the 16 week study, the researchers found a significant increase in measures of inductive reasoning and openness among the intervention group.

“The hallmark of this program is that [the seniors] were learning a concrete skill and they could see this in their test performance,” Stine-Morrow explains. 

The research is unique in that, “people in the inductive reasoning group gradually increased in their scores on a very reliable measure of openness to experience,” she adds. This is novel because “there’s a lot of research that suggests as we get older... people don’t change radically in their personality... so the fact that we could, with a small cognitive intervention, increase this openness to experience, which in the long run may affect cognition, it’s exciting and a little bit different.”

When asked to explain the take-home message of their study, Stine-Morrow cautioned that the results must first be replicated in future studies. But what the results imply, she says, is that it’s a good idea to put yourself in situations where you learn new things in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.

"So stay somewhat in your comfort zone, but push on the boundaries a little bit. And that in turn is likely to make you more comfortable with new experiences, so ideally this could be a sort of self perpetuating process.”

Stine-Morrow notes that there’s a lot of debate in scientific literature about whether people can alter cognitive processes with brain activity, adding that scientists know “that people who are engaged in a lot of [brain] activity do better in a variety of ways, but we need to be careful here. What we know is that really active people have better cognitive abilities, but it could be that if you’re more cognitively vital, then you have more resources to go do all these things.”

It may be as simple as use it or lose it – it certainly can’t harm our brains to pick up a challenging word or number puzzle.

« Previous entry
soundoff (669 Responses)
  1. RV Interior Designer Orange County


    June 12, 2021 at 04:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sprinter Van Restoration


    June 12, 2021 at 04:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. american leak detection orange county

    Right here is the perfect blog for anybody who wishes to understand this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic which has been written about for ages. Excellent stuff, just wonderful!


    June 12, 2021 at 05:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sprinter Mechanic

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and the rest of the website is extremely good.


    June 12, 2021 at 05:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sprinter Door Repair Panel


    June 12, 2021 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Richard Conard


    June 12, 2021 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Daryl Kisto


    June 12, 2021 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sherman Somer


    June 12, 2021 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. honda dealer near me


    June 12, 2021 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. firestone near me


    June 12, 2021 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. physical therapy near me

    Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 12, 2021 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. chinese delivery near me


    June 12, 2021 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. chick-fil-a near me

    Everyone loves it whenever people come together and share ideas. Great blog, continue the good work!


    June 12, 2021 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. thrift store near me


    June 13, 2021 at 01:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. td bank near me


    June 13, 2021 at 02:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. 711 near me

    I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content by you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal blog now 😉


    June 13, 2021 at 02:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. vegan restaurants near me

    I enjoy looking through a post that will make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!


    June 13, 2021 at 04:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. indian restaurant near me

    June 13, 2021 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. vons near me

    Excellent site you have got here.. Itís difficult to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    June 13, 2021 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. 7 eleven near me

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Thanks!


    June 13, 2021 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. https://www.songmanhits.com

    Best view i have ever seen !


    June 13, 2021 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. pool supplies near me


    June 13, 2021 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. animal shelters near me


    June 13, 2021 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. pharmacy near me


    June 13, 2021 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. wawa near me

    After I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. Is there a means you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!


    June 13, 2021 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. churches near me


    June 14, 2021 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. fabric stores near me


    June 14, 2021 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. post office near me

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more about this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but typically people don't talk about these topics. To the next! Many thanks!!


    June 14, 2021 at 02:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. fast food near me


    June 14, 2021 at 06:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. pnc bank near me


    June 14, 2021 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. groceries near me

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I've read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.


    June 14, 2021 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. sheetz near me

    Good site you have here.. Itís hard to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    June 14, 2021 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. electricians near me

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you so much, However I am having problems with your RSS. I donít know why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody else getting similar RSS problems? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    June 14, 2021 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. mcdonalds near me


    June 14, 2021 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Barbar Busard

    Love this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSV-c9dh7VM


    June 14, 2021 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. greek food near me

    Howdy! I could have sworn Iíve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím definitely happy I stumbled upon it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!


    June 14, 2021 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. therapists near me


    June 14, 2021 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. notary public near me


    June 14, 2021 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. nursing homes near me

    Good article. I absolutely appreciate this site. Thanks!


    June 14, 2021 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. shoprite near me

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may revisit yet again since i have book marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.


    June 14, 2021 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Camper Repairs Near Me


    June 14, 2021 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. RV Repairs Near My Location

    Your style is very unique compared to other folks I've read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.


    June 14, 2021 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. RV Repair Places Near Me

    I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every little bit of it. I've got you book-marked to look at new things you postÖ


    June 15, 2021 at 01:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Nearby RV Repair

    Iím impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog thatís equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this during my search for something concerning this.


    June 15, 2021 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RV Repair Seal Beach

    This web site truly has all the information I needed concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 15, 2021 at 07:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    I'm very pleased to uncover this site. I need to to thank you for ones time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also have you bookmarked to check out new stuff on your website.


    June 15, 2021 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Repair Shop

    You've made some decent points there. I checked on the internet for additional information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.


    June 15, 2021 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Repair Huntington Beach


    June 15, 2021 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Camper Repair Near Me

    I absolutely love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím attempting to create my very own website and want to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Appreciate it!


    June 15, 2021 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Nearby RV Repair


    June 15, 2021 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.