Your Brain Starts To Deteriorate At Age 24

Brain Image

Apparently, youth is even more fleeting than we thought:

That’s according to researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, who have foundthat measurable declines in cognitive performance begin to occur at age 24. In terms of brainpower, you’re over the hill by your mid-20s.

The researchers measured this by studying the performance of thousands of players of Starcraft 2, a strategy video game. If tennis is a hybrid of boxing and chess, as David Foster Wallace held, then Starcraft is a hybrid of boxing, chess, Risk, Monopoly, and Candy Crush. The game is incredibly fast-paced and complicated. The goal is to harvest resources, build an army, and crush your opponent, who is trying to do the same.


Like economists, Starcraft players think in macro and micro terms – they must focus on the long-term goals of building a healthy economy that can sustain an army of hundreds of units, while simultaneously maneuvering and issuing commands to each of those units, often individually. Because everything happens in real time, the only limit on player performance is the speed at which they’re able to zip around the playing field and perform actions via their keyboard and mouse.

The game provides an excellent real-world laboratory for testing cognitive ability under pressure. It’s already used in a University of Florida Honors class to teach “critical thinking, problem solving, resource management, and adaptive decision making.” In studying game replays, the researchers at Simon Fraser found that “looking-doing latency” – the delay between when a player looked at a new section of the game field, and when they performed an in-game action – is lowest among 24-year-old players. After age 24, that lag only increases as you get older. The researchers calculate that over an average 15-minute game of Starcraft, a 39-year-old player loses 30 seconds to cognitive lag versus a 24-year-old. In a game where performance is measured in hundreds of actions per minute, this is a huge deficit.

Those of us who hit 24 a long time ago can now, of course, welcome those millennials in the ranks of old age.

Update: Copy/Paste error fixed. In my defense, my brain has been on a downward slope for 22 years according to this study 

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Franklin says:

    You could probably extend it out a few more years if we didn’t eat so much sugar.

  2. This seems an extremely specific defintion of “cognitive performance”. Not to downplay the skill required to play something like Starcraft professionally, but that sort of “twitch” reaction thinking isn’t really representative of mental activity as a whole.

  3. James Pearce says:

    Thankfully it’s taken me 13 years to notice……

  4. Pinky says:

    25 is about when you start figuring out that there are consequences to your actions.

  5. Tillman says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I imagine it can get somewhat routinized too, since there aren’t that many variations in Starcraft gameplay that require innovative problem-solving.

  6. Matt says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Indeed starcraft is played with a set build order in mind before the game even begins. Build orders are adapted sometimes according to how your opponent is developing their build order. In reality most of the actual building up of armies is pre-planned. The strategy part comes from choosing the correct build order for the map/opponent.

    Sometimes things get weird and that requires some thinking on your feet but most of the actions are predictable.

  7. Hal_10000 says:

    This seems a huge conclusion to draw from testing a very specific skill set.

  8. rodney dill says:

    I think its best not to think about it….. I’ve found that gets easier as time goes on.

  9. rodney dill says:

    @James Pearce: Sorry James, I was trying to give you a second ‘like’ and fat fingered on my nook and gave you a dislike.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What do they know about my brain? I know for a fact that it was at the age of 16.

  11. Kari Q says:

    As Stormy Dragon said, this doesn’t seem like a true measure of cognitive ability so much as reaction speed. I think we all knew that reaction times are quicker among the younger, but that an older person’s mental abilities have degraded.

  12. MBunge says:

    Was Michael Jordan better at 24 or 28? I believe Stephen King wrote The Stand when he was 28, Firestarter, Cujo and Christine in his early 30s and The Tommyknockers, Misery and The Dark Half as he was approaching 40. How many people do you know in any field, from car mechanic and appliance salesman to brain surgeon and rocket scientist, where you’d say they were better at 24 than 30?