Multi-Tasking More Difficult With Age. Why Marketers Should Worry.

Another good article about cognitive ageing that marketers should take notice of.

Researchers from the University of Illinois report that individuals over age 59 face an increased risk of injury when crossing busy complicated streets while multitasking. The study appears in the Journal of Psychology and Aging.JPEG

The study was small but provocative. Researchers compared 18 undergraduate students aged 18 to 26 years to 18 older adults aged 59 to 81 years during a simulated street crossing exercise.

Participants walked on a treadmill while watching three computer viewing screens which displayed a busy street between two large buildings. Participants were asked to cross the road as they would normally, at whatever speed they wanted without running.

After crossing the street, participants then walked through another alleyway and through a gate. Then, a new trial began and the participant had to cross another street. Participants crossed the virtual street in three ways: unencumbered, while listening to music on an iPod or while talking on a hands free cell phone.

Researchers found that the older adults were bad at navigating the most challenging busy streets, and it got worse if they were also talking on a cell phone. They were either more likely to be “hit” in a simulated car crash or unable to cross the street in the time allotted by researchers.

The findings support earlier research which suggests older adults have difficulty multitasking. Other research finds cognitive control and the ability to take part in numerous activities at one time diminish with age.

In this day and age when we marvel at the ability for younger folks to multi-task, and often assume this is in our marketing efforts, we are potentially raising a barrier against older consumers who’ll either misunderstand or simply give up.

Brands need to embrace the older consumer, either to attract them or to retain them, would do well to heed this warning.

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