Expertise and aging: Maintaining skills through the lifespan

  • Horton S
  • Baker J
  • Schorer J
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As lifespan continues to increase in many developed countries, so too does the age at which we see extraordinary achievements from older adults. Examples from running, golf, and other domains continue to redefine what is possible as we age. Evidence suggests, however, that progression through adulthood is associated with a dramatic decline in all manner of physical and cognitive abilities, from physiological capacities (e.g., VO2 max) to cognitive and perceptual functions (e.g., IQ scores, reaction time). In the face of such precipitous decline in specific abilities, how do we account for maintenance of skilled performance and expertise amongst those supposedly well along the age-decline curve? Expert performers are seemingly able to sustain high levels of achievement in the face of an overall deterioration in general capacities. Moreover, experts maintain this performance in spite of reduced involvement in their field. There are three primary explanations for the ability of experts to maintain superior performance in spite of an overall decline in abilities: (a) preserved differentiation, (b) compensation, and (c) selective maintenance. Overall, research into the high achievements of older adults may reveal a great deal with respect to skill preservation and how to best counter age-related decline.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aging
  • Performance
  • Skill acquisition
  • Skill maintenance

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  • Sean Horton

  • Joseph Baker

  • Jörg Schorer

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