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Ages versus learning ability

Ages versus learning ability

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

When it comes to studying and learning, some adults believe it’s too late for them to learn new things. They think there is an inevitable decline in the learning ability with age (as in “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”). What do you think? Do children learn faster and easier than adults? Does learning ability decrease as you get older?

This project is an opportunity to study the effect of age on learning ability.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.  

Project advisor

Information Gathering:

Find out by learning about psychology. Read books, magazines, or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the factors that may affect learning. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Following are some notes and some related links.


The problem with human learning is that so much that we learn is in terms of what we already know. This makes obvious sense. For example, we learn that Paris is the capital of France. However, we could not really learn this if we did not have some prior knowledge of what a capital city or a country is. This, so called learning of facts, is known by psychologists as “declarative learning” to distinguish it from “procedural learning”.

Procedural learning is the way we improve our learning, do tasks faster, and how the things we know become proceduralized. For example, when you first learn someone’s telephone number, you dial it very slowly, one digit at a time. But with practice, this gets faster, until the skill is completely automatic (atomized is the technical term), and then when you think of the name, you can immediately recall the number and dial it.

Interestingly, this is what Sigmund Freud  would have called it “becoming unconscious”. Indeed, the unconsciousness is essential to us as human beings. We could not possibly do all the things we do if every thing had to be done under conscious deliberation.

Edmund Furse’s home page

Repeated studies have found that while the learning process may be slower (possibly because an older person already has so many full “file drawers” of memories), healthy older people can usually learn new things well.

Diseases associated with aging, not the aging process itself, are the robbers of mental agility. If a person is not depressed and lacking in interest and if there is no disease (like Alzheimer’s disease) present, new ideas can be just as appealing in old age as they are in youth.

As always, practice in learning helps. In one study, a short course offering practice in memorizing and reasoning helped about 40 percent of a study group of people who had already lost some mental sharpness to get back their learning ability.











Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to see how age affects learning ability.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Age is an independent variable and learning ability is a dependent variable.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

My hypothesis is that learning ability does not decline by age. So if some adults are slow learners, this may be because of other reasons such as:

  • Not caring about learning
  • Not having enough practice for learning
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Not being able to focus because of other social and economical problems.
  • Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Design an experiment or a group of experiments to test learning ability. Find some qualified candidates in different age groups for testing. To make sure that age is the only effective variable, select your candidates among people who frequently study, learn and do not have vision or hearing difficulties.

Learning is a vast subject. Those who study on learning ability, usually focus on one type of learning. As if human uses different parts of his/ her brain and body for each type of learning. For example, one may study the effect of age on ability to learn a second language. Another may study on the effect of age on ability to learn music. Subjects such as music, dance, flight, mathematics, computers, language, and many other subjects require different physical abilities. So we cannot study on all of them at the same time and the results of study on one, does not apply to others.

Memory is one of the most important parts of learning; if things are not remembered, no learning can take place.

In our study, we define learning as the ability to memorize a clue in a short time and use it to solve problems in long term. Learning a few words of a second language and using it as needed is a sample of this type of learning. Memorizing and analyzing does not require any specific physical ability and many disabled people will also be able to participate in this type of learning. Since memorizing is an important part of learning, some experiments will only focus on short term or long term memory. If we define learning as the ability to memorize and analyze, we need to perform a set of experiments to test the memory and the ability to analyze. By combining the results of these experiments, we can then have the results on learning ability. You will need to select some candidates in different ages for your experiments and repeat the experiments with all candidates.

Experiment 1:

This experiment is for testing short term memory.

Procedure: Read the following numbers one digit at a time, then wait for the entire number to be recorded. Try to be consistent. Use the same tone of voice for each digit and leave about one second between each digit. (An old trick to count seconds is to say the word Mississippi to yourself between the digits, so, for example, when reading the number 7-2-5, you would say 7 then think Mississippi, then say 2, and think Mississippi then say 5.)
The listener should wait until the entire number is read and then try to write the number on a sheet of paper.












Data Analysis:

Now check the subject’s written answers against these numbers. Count the number of digits as correct if one of the pair of numbers is correct.

Report Data:

Record the maximum number of digits that were correct in the short term memory column of your results table?

This is a sample results table:

Test Subject Maximum Digits
Mike 6
Jennifer 7
Henry 8

Experiment 2:

In this experiment we will test long term memory (not very long) and general attention and learning ability.


Make three list of words in three different sheets of papers and some instructions above each list like the following:

List 1:While you are reading through this list, pay attention to whether or not the word is capitalized. Count the number of words that are capitalized.


How many words were capitalized?


List 2:While you are reading through the second list, pay attention to the sound of the word. Count the number of words that rhyme with the word frog?


How many words rhyme with the word frog?


List 3:While you are reading the third list, consider your personal experience with the object or event mentioned. Count the number of items that you have had experience with.


How many words are related to something that you have had a personal experience with?

Tell your test subject that you will give him/ her some instructions and a list of words. Start from the first list and read each list only once. After reading each list, ask the question at the bottom of that list and record the answer.

Now you are ready to complete the experiment.

Give a paper to your subject and ask him/ her to write down as many words from the three lists as they can.

Then go back to list one, list two, and list 3 and check the answers to see how many are correct from each list. Count a word correct, even if it is not spelled correctly, but do not count similar words with a different meaning.

Submit the number of words that you remembered for each list.

Experiment 3: (Serial Position)

Write digits from 1 to 9 in a random order. Say each digit out loud as they appear to your test subject. Then ask him/ her to write down the numbers in the right order. Make five different sequences of digits, so you can do five trials with each test subject.

It has widely been accepted that we can only remember a limited number of items from a list that exceeds about seven items. You may find that the first items and the last items are remembered more accurately than the items in the middle of the list.

Experiment 4: Investigating Short Term Memory

Carry out an experiment which would investigate the operation of memory by studying the way a list of words is recalled.

Procedure: Compose a list of words, read them aloud to a test subject, and ask the subject to recall as many as possible.

Protocol: In composing the words the following protocol must be observed:

There must be 12 words and they must be nouns so that there is less chance of sentence construction. They must not be in alphabetical order and there also must not be any unusual words.

In reading the words aloud, the following protocol must be observed:

  • the reader should say the word “elephant” silently after each word so that the list is read at an even pace
  • the list should be read only once and not displayed in written form
  • a 10 second period should elapse before the subject starts recalling the words
  • a period of 30 seconds should be given for recall

The reader is to record the results by placing 1’s and 0’s in the list to indicate whether the words in the list were recalled or not.

To indicate recall use 1 (Yes) or 0 (No).

Words Recall (1 or 0)
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.
5. 5.
6. 6.
7. 7.
8. 8.
9. 9.
10. 10.
11. 11.
12. 12.

Count the number of recalled words and use it for your final results table.

Experiment 5: (Long term memory)

There are three general types of memory: sensory, short-term and long-term memory. Sensory memory temporarily stores information detected by our senses. Short term memory stores things we focus upon for a fraction of a second.





  1. Remove all of the hearts from the deck. For this activity, you’ll only work with the 13 cards of this suit.
  2. Randomly remove four cards from the stack of 13. Neither you nor subject should view these cards.
  3. Call out the name of each card that is left in the stack of nine – one card per second. When all the cards have been called out, the subject must identify the missing four cards. Record the number of recalled cards and value of each card that was recalled.
  4. Reshuffle the cards and repeat this same test two more times. Remember to record both the number of recalled cards and the value of each card that was recalled.


  1. What was the average number of cards recalled by each subject?
  2. Did the ability to remember cards improve with each trial?
  3. Was the ability to remember cards associated with the value of the specific cards?
  4. Suppose a four-card straight was removed from the stack. How would this affect the ability to identify the missing cards?
  5. Suppose the jack, queen, king, and ace were removed. Would this make the challenge easier or more difficult? Why?

Experiment 6:

In this experiment we will use a maze to test learning ability and long term memory.


Get a maze like the following and print multiple copies of it. Give a copy to each subject and record the time that it takes until completion. After one week or one month, take another blank copy of the same maze and ask the subject to do it again. Record the time again. The time difference represents learning ability


You can find more maze samples at the following links:



As you see, there are so many different ways that you can test memory and learning ability. Now you may come up with your own ideas and experiments. Just make sure that all other possibly effective variables are kept constant and the age is the only variable.

You will need 6 groups of randomly selected individuals in 6 different age groups. If possible, each of the six groups should have equal numbers of males and females. You will need 10 or more individuals in each group, but try to keep the six groups equal in size. The larger the groups you can test, the more likely it is that your results will be accurate. Basically, you will be testing each age groups ability to learn and remember and then comparing the ability of the six groups. If you do not have access to enough people for your experiments, do your experiments with only 3 age groups. One group will be teenagers ranging from 13 to 18 years of age. The second groups will be adults ranging from 30 to 45 years of age. The third and final group can be composed of elderly adults between the ages of 55 to 70.

Materials and Equipment:

Materials used for this project may include papers, pen, deck of playing cards, access to a copy machine or printer.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Record the results of your experiments in a table like this:

Age group 

Average points from experiment

Average points from experiment

Average points from experiment

Average points from experiment

10 – 20
20 – 30
30 – 40
40 – 50
50 – 60
60 – 70

Note: You do not have to perform multiple experiments. You may just perform one or two experiments that you think are best. The numbers in the table will be the average of the results that you calculate for each age group and each experiment.

Make a Chart or Graph:

Make a bar chart to visually present your results. Use one vertical bar for each age group. The height of each bar will represent the average points on that age group.


You will need to calculate the average of the results for each experiment and each age group.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


Most references for this project are available on the Internet and I have provided their links above.
Many books are also available about learning and cognition. Following are some related books.

Arnold L. Glass
Addison-Wesley Pub. Co (05/01/1979)

The Psychology of Learning
John F. Hall
Lippincott, 1966

Human Learning
David L. Horton
Prentice-Hall, 1976