In its Science section on Tuesday, May 20, 2008, the New York Times printed an article explaining that older may, indeed, be wiser. In her article entitled “Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain,” Sara Reistad-Long discusses research that shows that brainpower increases, not declines, with age. That is, “. . . the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.” (Id.)
In one study (detailed in Progress in Brain Research), subjects were asked to read passages. The passages, though, had unexpected and out-of-place words or phrases scattered throughout. The adult subjects 60 and older took more time than the college students to read through the passages. The researchers found that the college students read through the passages at the same speed that they read other materials. The older adults slowed down, meaning they took time to take in and process the out-of-place words.
As might be expected, when the two groups were later asked questions focusing on the unexpected words as the answers, the older adults responded much better than the college students.
As explained by Lynn Hasher, an author of the review and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute:
“ For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened. . . . But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.” (Id.)
In short, older people have wisdom. Their broad attention span allows them to know about a situation and also understand the indirect messages of the situation that their younger peers miss. Because older adults are taking in more information from any given situation, storing it and combining it with their store of previous knowledge (which obviously is much greater than a younger person’s), they have the “wisdom” that is absent in the younger generation.
Applying the results of this study to negotiations and mediations means, in simple terms, do not give your older adversary short shrift. Just because the other party may be a senior citizen or a baby boomer, this does not mean her brain power is declining; to the contrary, it has increased, giving her “wisdom.” In the course of a negotiation or mediation, she will not ignore but rather pick-up on and use the out-of-context or indirect cues and messages and process them. She will not ignore or skip over the “distractions” or “irrelevant facts” but rather, place them in her “data base” and use them in her efforts to resolve the issues and reach resolutions.
Alternatively, if it happens that you are the “older” party and your adversary belongs to the younger generation, you may gain some comfort in knowing that you have the greater brain power: you will pick up cues– indirect or “irrelevant” messages – that your younger counterpart will probably miss. In short, you have the “wisdom” that your counterpart has not yet gained and given this gift, you have the responsibility to use it in an effort to resolve the dispute.
. . .Just something to think about.