Dr. Oury Monchi of the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal and Dr. Ruben Martins of the University of Montreal say study participants were asked to pair words according to different lexical rules, including semantic category -- animal, object, rhyme or the beginning of the word.
The matching rules changed multiple times throughout the task without the participants knowing. For example, if the person figured out that the words fell under the same semantic category, the rule was changed so they were required to pair the words according to rhyme instead.
"Funny enough, the young brain is more reactive to negative reinforcement than the older one. When the young participants made a mistake and had to plan and execute a new strategy to get the right answer, various parts of their brains were recruited even before the next task began," Monchi says in a statement.
"However, when the older participants learned that they had made a mistake, these regions were only recruited at the beginning of the next trial, indicating that with age, we decide to make adjustments only when absolutely necessary. It is as though the older brain is more impervious to criticism and more confident than the young brain."