80-year-olds as street smart as 20-year-olds, study finds

PORTSMOUTH, England — Don’t underestimate your grandparents: Street smarts aren’t worsened with age, a new study finds.

The elderly are just as keen at identifying shady figures or situations as young adults, it turns out.

Elderly man
Turns out the elderly are just as street smart as young adults. A new study shows that a senior’s gut instincts can be as keen as that of people in their 20s.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth recruited 126 individuals — about a third of whom were aged 59 to 91, and the rest of whom were 20 to 28 — for a study on whether one’s age can reliably determine their street smarts — that is, their ability to accurately assess dangerous situations.

Participants were presented with five male and four female actors walking on a treadmill while connected to a system of sensors that created a digital silhouette of their bodies. The nine actors were systematically chosen to exhibit varying levels of intimidation and aggression. After watching a video displaying the gait of each “walker,” the participants were asked to evaluate the threat level that each actor posed.

Across both age brackets, about 95 percent of participants were able to correctly ascertain the level of aggression posed by a given actor, validating previous research that has suggested that most people, post-childhood, are able to accurately detect threats without a decline in later life.

“There could be lots of factors which make an older person frightened of being a victim of crime, but research on the relationship between age and fear of crime isn’t clear-cut,” explains lead researcher Dr. Liam Satchel in a university news release. “It’s likely to be influenced by many factors, including the type of crime feared, gender and a person’s belief in their ability to defend themselves.”

Satchel, who has conducted numerous other studies centering around one’s ability to detect aggression, has found that street smarts show to be only consistently weak among teens and adolescents.

While it is possible that the study’s older participants were not representative of the greater population — e.g., elderly participants willing to participate may have been more naturally confident and less worried about crime — further research could possibly allay these concerns.

For now, “these findings overall suggest we develop a streetwise ability, that we are able to make judgments about others and our safety, once we reach adulthood,” concludes Satchel. “The results could encourage older people to recognize they are street smart, that their gut instincts are spot on.”

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Psychology.


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