RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Do we really become more forgetful as we age? Talk to a baby boomer, and that’s a major concern.

So why is it that more and more tech firms seem to be hiring seasoned, veteran executives these days?

Experienced management certainly is a big factor taken into consideration by venture capitalists. The investors, at least, aren’t worried about aging memories.

A professor at NC State may have part of the answer.

“Negative stereotypes that exist about aging have negative effects on people’s sense of well-being and the extent to which people fear getting older,” said Dr. Thomass Hess, a psychology professor at NC State. “It’s quite evident that most people over the age of 65 are functioning on their own, living on their own and doing quite well.

Although some basic aspects of cognitive ability decline as we age, functioning is preserved in many contexts, and there are some areas that actually improve as you get older. These findings give us a more realistic view of how people adapt to the aging process, and what their functioning is like in everyday life.”

Hess tackled the old stereotype of forgetful seniors in a study that says biology is involved in hammering memory ability. But other factors, such as what he calls “stereotype threat” may also play a role. He defines stereotype threat as people’s fear that their behavior will reinforce a negative stereotype that includes a group in which they belong. Since seniors know the stories about aging and memory, they experience anxiety that in turn affects their performance in tests.

“Age differences that we’ve seen in previous memory studies may not be entirely due to the biological changes associated with aging,” Hess said. “They may also reflect older adults’ reactions to the context in which we’ve tested people. When you look at older adults in the everyday context in which they function, you get a very different picture of their performance than when you look at them outside of this context.”

To test his theory, he had participants read a number of what NCSU describes as “mock” newspaper articles about aging and memory. Some were positive, some negative.

Those who read stories with a positive spin on aging improved their responses on basic memory tests by 30 percent.

But Hess didn’t stop there. He also compared cognitive ability of older and younger adults in assessing people’s character, making objective decisions and also dealing with information that becomes part of the information assimilated in making lifestyle decisions.
The older adults did just as well, if not better, Hess said.

“We found that if the information was relevant to older adults, they could focus their cognitive resources, tune out the irrelevant information and make an informed decision,” Hess said. “They performed almost exactly like younger adults. Older adults tended to focus on the argument that was made rather than on who made it, which is the way we would think an informed decision-maker would go about making a decision.”

Where older adults had a decided advantage came in judging character.

“Older people know what is important in assessing character because of their years of experience and social expertise,” he explained. “Young people haven’t had as much experience in the social world, and they haven’t had as much time to learn about the many factors that relate to behavior, so they tend to focus on qualities that are somewhat superficial.”

Hess outlined his findings in Journal of Gerontology, and those in turn were published in Science magazine. His research focused on stereotype threat, aging and memory and was funded by a grant worth $403,000 from the National Institute on Aging.

Financial Times honors Duke Corporate

An entrepreneurial effort at Duke University continues to draw international recognition.

Duke Corporate Education, a non-degree program that was launched as a for-profit corporation in 2000 with Duke’s Fuquay Business School as the largest shareholder, was named the ‘top corporate educator in the world’ by Financial Times.

The organization, which is based in Durham and London, had produced more than $23 million revenue. Its client roster includes Eli Lilly, Merck, IBM, Schering, Saudi Armaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Progress Energy and many more. Programs are geared for individual companies.

However, the program and Fuqua have been hit by economic hardtimes like most business. Fuqua announced layoffs of five people in April and also said five open positions would not be filled.

The Fuqua School was ranked second overall in executive education. Columbia was first. The rest of the top ten, in order: Harvard, Iese (Spain), Stanford, IMD (Switzerland), London Business School, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), Insead (France) and Thunderbird.

Findings were based on surveys of international business executives and the schools.

Finding new life

Who says we have discovered all there is to know about the planet?
Scientists at UNC have determined that the “Sandhills Lily” is in fact a different species and not part of another lily family. The 3-foot-tall, yellow-orange lily grows primarily in the Sandhills. Dried specimens of the flower can be seen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium

“It’s a very exciting discovery to have a new lily species found in North Carolina and South Carolina,” said Alan Weakley, curator of the UNC Herbarium, in a statement. “It’s an indication that much work remains to be done to understand the biological diversity that is a wonderful feature of North Carolina’s landscape.”

First observed in the 1940s, researchers didn’t consider it as a possible new species until later. It was thought to be part of a lily that grows along the Gulf Coast.