Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How the Sun Sets on Your Age of Adventure

Is there an age when we all become crotchety old men or stubborn old women that simmer when a teenager cranks up their favorite music, or that turn up our noses when some exotic new food is offered to us? For about 95 percent of us, yes.

The other day, a colleague of mine directed me to an NPR feature, "Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure?" by correspondent Robert Krulwich. In it, they featured the recent studies of Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky who sought to investigate whether or not our minds are a little less open (to new things) when we're older.

What Sapolsky found it that yes, there is a window when we humans pass "from the adventure novelty stage to the routine and the comfortable and the familiar." This window is extends from age 23 to 39, and affects different preferences in different ways.

For example, according to Sapolsky's investigation, our willingness to listen to new music closes when we're 35. After the age of 23, if you don't already have a body piercing, there's just a five percent chance that you ever will. And if by age 39 you haven't tried a new food like sushi or escargot, there's a 95 percent chance that you never will.

Through the NPR report, I also learned those most resistant to change spend a long time at their jobs, and they're really good at what they do, they become "eminent." In other words, they're comfortable in their ways because they've received positive enforcement, success rewards and so forth. So the key is to change jobs regularly and once you've mastered a profession, position or craft, make a change.

This phenomena, where one's window for trying new things closes, affects other species as well. In one example, a troop of baboons was forced to move from its original habitat. Following the move, the older primates wouldn't touch unfamiliar food sources, but the younger ones would.

What's going on here? Continuity brings stability and, in the case of an old song, can bring us back to the good ol' days. "The familiar makes an older person feel stronger," said NPR's Krulwich.

However, "while continuity may make us feel comfortable, it's when you dare to do that new thing, that's when you grow."


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Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.